"The most important gifts we can bestow on other people are our time and attention."

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Episode 33 -- August 6, 2020

The Gift of Listening: Helping Others in the Time of Pandemic

In his book, Three Simple Rules: Uncomplicating Life in Recovery, Michael Graubart makes the case, for addicts and everyone else, that truly enjoyable, fruitful, spiritual, meaningful, and sober lives come from living by three simple rules: Trust God. Clean house. Help others. Living in a time of pandemic-related isolation and uncertainty invites us to embrace these rules in new ways. In this excerpt, Graubart offers deep and attentive listening to others as one way each of us can be of service.

This excerpt is from Three Simple Rules by Michael Graubart and has been edited for brevity.

The most important gifts we can bestow on other people are our time and attention. Conscious, attentive listening is so rare that when we get it, we realize we are receiving a unique and precious gift.

The best-selling mystery author Lawrence Block made a great observation about the way alcoholics and addicts actually converse. Block's recurring detective character was a big drinker in many novels, and then ?nally got sober and started going to Alcoholics Anonymous.

They don't really listen to the other person at all, Block noticed. They just wait for the other person to stop talking, so they can start talking. They do that long enough and call it a conversation.

This is a long way of saying that if you really want to help people, listen to them. Just listen. Don't multitask. Don't text. Don't formulate responses. Just listen. What an extraordinary gift you can give, and it doesn't cost a penny.

A true expert in listening is Rabbi Noach Orlowek, who lives in Jerusalem and travels the world teaching about parenting and life skills. Rabbi Orlowek teaches that there is a commandment in the Torah to visit the sick, but he points out that the Hebrew word in the commandment doesn't mean "visit."

Now, follow me on this one.

In Hebrew, the word for morning is boker.

The commandment to look after sick people is "bikkur cholim."

Boker (morning) and bikkur (look after or visit) come from the same root, a word meaning distinguishing, discernment, and inquiry.

Morning is the time when the sun rises, light appears, and we are able to distinguish between things. We are able to discern differences in objects--we can walk to the bathroom without stubbing our toe, for example.

Similarly, when we go visit a sick person, if we just think of it as a visit, we might let our need to distance ourselves from the discomfort of seeing the sick person dictate our behavior. So, we'll just start talking on and on about whatever, and then we get out of there as fast as we can, secure in the knowledge that we visited a sick person and we can check a box that says, "I'm a terri?c human being."

But that's not the commandment. The commandment doesn't say visit. It says discern. As in, discern what a sick person needs. How do you do that? By listening.

I was a volunteer on the HIV unit at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center twenty-?ve years ago. I didn't volunteer because I was such a good person. I volunteered because I was lonely, and I thought I could meet nurses.

One key lesson: in the training phase, the hospital taught us that the patient's room is his or her castle. You are a visitor to the castle, only admitted by permission of the castle owner. In other words, it's not your hospital. It's the patient's room. As a result, when you go in, your job isn't to start blabbing away. It's to see what they need. To discern.

Again, the simplest gift you can give anyone, hurting or not, is just to listen. See what they need. The great motivator, Les Brown, says that he asks everyone he encounters, "How's your day going?" I read that in one of his books about the same time I was volunteering at Cedars- Sinai, and I have adapted that conversational tactic as my own. I ask that question every chance I get, especially in one of those situations where the person is stuck talking to me because of their job. The simple question "How's your day going?" inevitably causes them to look up from what they're doing, make eye contact-- the divinity in me sees and salutes the divinity in you-- and sometimes even smile. All from one simple question-- "How's your day going?" How great is that?

Typically, the answer relates to how long they have been at their job that day. As in, "I just got here." Or, "I'm almost done." Further proof, to my ear, that they would rather be anywhere else. They aren't telling me about their overall day. They're just telling me about their working hours. Surely their lives are bigger than that. But they've had to put the rest of their lives on hold so they can come in and do their jobs, probably for not that much money.

The least I can do is acknowledge their humanity instead of seeing them simply as their job title.

The greatest and simplest gift I can give another human being is to acknowledge that person's humanity and divinity, and actually listen to what that person has to say.

Practicing alcoholics and addicts have a belief system that says, "Everybody owes me." In fact, no one in our society owes me anything, and I don't owe anyone, outside of my immediate family, anything. I do feel a responsibility and desire to serve my community, my society, and my world, but that desire is deeply rooted in a sense of self-caring and not simply altruism.

The hand that is open to give is open to receive, and this is how I put myself in the ?ow of life.

At the end of the day, "help others" means loving and serving those around us, because we're all living in this world together, and it will be so much better if we're good to each other.

We need each other right now, and we need our recovery, too. Learn more about the simplicity of recovery by reading Three Simple Rules by Michael Graubart.

About the Author:
Michael Graubart is a New York Times best-selling author who penned Hazelden Publishing's Sober Dad: The Manual for Perfectly Imperfect Parenting, Step Up: Unpacking Steps One, Two, and Three with Someone Who's Been There and Three Simple Rules: Uncomplicating Life in Recovery. He writes under a pseudonym to maintain his anonymity and speak frankly about his experiences in Twelve Step recovery.

© 2018 by Michael Graubart
All rights reserved