March 12, 2016

We Just Need A Good Listener

I have been asked to become involved with a new project that holds exciting potential to address serious needs for a lot of people during retirement: loneliness, boredom, sadness or a sense of facing life's challenges without help.  There may be a simple way to provide some help for these problems. How? Fellow retirement author, Boyd Lemon, has written an excellent summary of this effort:  


"Some people think that retirement will be uninterrupted bliss with loads of free time to do whatever you want. Finally, you don’t have to do what bosses, customers or clients want you to. Retirement has this potential, but, unfortunately, many retirees experience seemingly insurmountable challenges and terrible disappointment fraught with loneliness, boredom and sadness.
They find themselves downright miserable, even depressed. Retirement, like divorce, job changes and major moves, is a life changing event that many find extremely stressful. Not having to go to the office, shop or business anymore requires major adjustment and can engender feelings of uselessness and a lack of purpose. 
Help for retirees experiencing these challenges is available, and it’s free. There is a new service established by psychology graduates of Princeton University. They make providers with retirement experience and expertise available by telephone to be compassionate listeners who can quickly restore perspective and significantly boost a retiree’s happiness and health.
This is not psychotherapy. It is human interaction with an unpaid peer who enjoys helping people and who is really good at it. The purpose of the telephone conversations, which can be five minutes or an hour, is to provide a compassionate listener, one who can impart the strength and confidence required to help you meet the challenges that retirement presents, turn the corner and experience the real happiness that is within your grasp."

For several years I was a lay minister in the Stephen Ministry program. A large part of that work involved compassionate, reflective listening with folks who were struggling with some serious life problems. My work in prison ministry also was based on careful listening and caring. I know the positive power of one person really listening to another.
What I find enticing is the program's reliance on the proven power of listening. Also, my new work with United Way to foster volunteer opportunities for retirees seems to dovetail nicely with this project. I can see both feeding into each other.

Very early in the development, some phone calls have already been completed. From the project's web site, here are a few testimonials:
"(I had a) very good call which helped me begin to realize something I have been doing, and how I might rectify it. I felt much better after the call. Wonderful person! It was uplifting to see that I could speak with someone I did not know and who was not a therapist but was able to help me get out of down mood. The call also helped me to realize what I can do to lessen some of the negative feelings I get from not doing important things by just doing them so that they do not accumulate into further negative 'piles'."
Participant (January, 2016)

"This has been literally the best positive thing I have experienced in a while! Whoever thought of this project would become my personal hero! Thank you for the patience, it was a 50 minute call, where I rumbled and rumbled, but what I got from it... It's just indescribable. I am feeling a lot more motivated and sure in myself, I can't stop smiling and I feel generally A LOT better. Seriously, just thank you. You have empowered me to dig deeper and to believe more in myself. As I appreciated hearing these nice things from someone who doesn't know me, I hope this will matter to you: you really made a difference. You gave me a lot to think about and to be proud of, so with tears in my eyes - thank you...Thank you again, it has been a wonderful experience and really inspiring too!"
Participant (January, 2016)

The program wants to take that power of listening and sharing to make someone's life a little brighter and more hopeful. One of the organizers and I have had several conversations about this exciting project and how I might become involved.

One thing I can do is to publish this post and ask for your feedback on the idea. Serious research indicates this peer-to-peer approach is on solid ground, but how will it translate into real world situations? So, I am asking you to leave a comment about the idea of a free telephone service to connect a willing listener with a retire who is struggling. Do you think the concept makes sense? Do you believe folks will call and talk with someone they don't know but who promises to be a good listener and springboard? 


Your feedback will become an important part of this effort. Those behind the program are in the design and structure phase, so your thoughts will be vital in helping them fine tune things. As they move forward with attempts to find sources of funding and the best way to connect folks, Satisfying Journey could become an important source of publicity and feedback.

If you'd like to take a look at the projects web site, click on this link:

http://happinessamplificationproject.org/


I am quite interested in your thoughts. 


31 comments:

  1. Yes,Bob,I think this is a service that would be very helpful and that retirees would use it! I know I am a mentally healthy outgoing,creative
    person and even so, our first actual retirement year, as you know, had many twists and turns! I could have used a good listener who was non judgemental (friends,family, and many retirees who already had the hang of it felt I was "lucky" to be retiring, and that my life was perfectly wonderful and I should just be really good with all of it..) Fact is, I faced challenges and would have appreciated a seasoned retiree's listening ear to bunch my thoughts and feelings off of! As it turns out,I did solve our various challenges, we tweaked things till it all worked out in new and better ways.. but it would have been a lot smoother for me if I had had a kind friend who already had been there done that! You seem perfect for this kind of position!!I'll follow your new venture!

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    1. First, I appreciate your feedback at 3:28 this morning before you left town on a weekend retreat. You know I value your thoughts.

      I know the organizers will be very happy with your response and rational. You are also in the position to spread the word of the program's availability as things move from the planning to the execution stage.

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  2. Bob, this is a wonderful idea. The concept of being a good listener is so important! So many times friends and family think that they must come up with a solution, or "fix" the issue. In truth, what is far more valuable is knowing that someone is actually listening to you.

    When faced with a concern, we tend to ruminate, over think about the problem. Often this private worrying does nothing to solve the problem. I'm convinced that when we are able to discuss "out loud" the issue with another human, something happens within us that helps to process the information a way that is more helpful. And, there is nothing sweeter than feeling validated by having someone really listen to you.

    Helpful friends and family often make the mistake of trying to "fix" the problem. Comments such as "you'll get over it", or suggestions that your concerns are not valid are NOT helpful.

    What a wonderful service. I will follow this closely. When I was still working, I found that my patients (chronically ill with a terminal condition) responded so well to empathy and thoughtful listening. It's a gift we can give to each other, and it will have far-reaching positive effects.

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    1. You are so right, Carole, about the "fix it" mentality. In particular, guys tend to want to immediately solve a problem for themselves or someone else. When they can't frustration sets in. This service would give someone in that position the freedom to talk and listen without necessarily finding a solution at that moment.

      You can bet I will keep you up to date on how this project is doing.

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  3. It is a good idea - and such a shame that there is a need for this. But...I have certainly found that one can have a conversation with many people and they don't seem to be doing "good listening" to it. I have often been complimented on being a "good listener" and that surprised me to start with. On reflection though - I can only think of one friend that is a good listener and have come to realise many people aren't. It is quite astonishing just how many people just don't seem to "take in" even something quite important one has said to them on the one hand. On the other hand - it is also astonishing how often someone interrupts with their own comments (or just literally wanders off) mid-sentence in a conversation. So - yes "good listeners" are needed - and if a service like this is the only way to bring it on then that is what has to happen.

    Its so easy really isn't it? Just picking out the obviously most important (to them) things that people have said and asking questions about what they did/felt about whatever-it-is that is going on in their life.

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    1. You have identified one of the toughest part of good listening: not jumping in with an answer or solution before the other person has even finished talking. Most of us are thinking of our response to someone instead of actually listening to what he is saying.

      Thank you for your thoughts this early Saturday morning. The organizers appreciate it, and so do I.

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  4. Sounds like a wonderful idea to me! Major life changes definitely produce both good and not so good results. Being able to communicate with a caring listener often helps us walk through difficulties to find our way on the new pathway. Our church taught Stephens Ministry principals and learning to listen, care, and commit can change the listener as well as the seeker.

    I think there might be a large group of people who would be encouraged to call, especially if there's anonymity. Often, there's a need, but there's also shame in admitting it. Years ago, I volunteered for a local agency that had a 24/7 crisis helpline. You would not believe how many people need help at inopportune times!

    In this day of technical connectedness we need to find ways to reach out to those who are struggling the most. I believe there's merit to this idea, Bob. I also think it would give opportunities for the listener to refer the caller to other local resources that might be of benefit. My husband works in an agency that provides referrals, and he's often surprised at how many people don't know how much help is actually available.

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    1. My understanding is that anonymity is a key part of all this. There would be no Skype-like video calls because of the need to make the caller feel comfortable. Video can be seen as an invasion of privacy and one's personal space.

      I don't know what the organization's stance is on referrals but that is an interesting point. If there is a serious issue involved I know I wouldn't want to be that person's only contact.

      Thanks, Pam.

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  5. I too think it's a great idea; and I'd venture to say that the volunteer listeners may get just as much out of these conversations as the callers. For in the end it's all about the human connection; about sharing our fears and feelings and ... making the load lighter.

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    1. Good point, Tom. Those on the receiving end will get tremendous satisfaction from participation, too. It is all about making that human connection.

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  6. I support this concept, a service that facilitates human connection, providing validation through objective listening - invaluable. I do think that knowledge of referral resources would be helpful for both volunteers and those calling in; some callers may require more than a listening ear. Through my years as a public health nurse, I learned that people don't always need help but they do need to know that help is available if they need it. I find these blogs are a springboard for retirement conversation and a source of support and validation; actual phone conversations would enhanced that for some people. These situations, i.e. retirement, marriage, births, graduations, etc, are a mixed bag emotionally. It's a hard place to be when you're feeling angst while everyone around you can only see the happy side, wondering what you have to feel bad about. The ability to express emotion is so key to resolving issues. There's a saying that emotion is like garbage; if you don't get it, out it starts to stink.

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    1. I agree with the emotion metaphor, Mona. Holding stuff in rarely is a long term positive. I am pleased you see the value in the concept. So do I.

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  7. This looks like a valuable service and I will follow it with interest. My late father was a Stephen Minister and he always said he got more out of it than he gave. Listening is a skill that is becoming more rare in our society, I fear. And retirement is a time of doubts, transition, and up and down moods in my experience. You are the perfect person to participate and I look forward to hearing your updates. How will they recruit "listeners"?

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    1. I don't know yet how the listeners will be recruited. Obviously, there would have to be some vetting process and review of goals and limitations. But, if this project becomes as popular as it could, finding willing listeners will become a key to its success. I will keep you updated.

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  8. I'm not a good listener, in this sense. When someone comes to me with a problem I am immediately trying to fix it. So, I would suck at this. But, I think you will enjoy it and likely help many people. The concept is great, so long as they get the right people, like you.
    b

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    1. Thanks, Barb, though Betty might point out that I still lean toward being a fixer. Hopefully, I am getting better. Being an artist, she is usually looking for a springboard, not a solution.

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    2. Well - at least you are trying to fix it - so the "jumping in" is being done with good intentions (though its not the right thing to do - but heart in the right place anyway). Many people just "jump in" because they don't want to listen to the other person - they want to "talk AT" them about whatever it is that they personally want to say iyswim.

      But for someone, like yourself, who is genuinely listening at any rate - then I can sympathise with the wanting to come up with "solutions". Its hard to accept that there just aren't "solutions" available sometimes and all one can do is to listen and say "Oh dear!" or "I understand how you feel". At least the person feels "heard". It is frustrating when the listener just stays "blank" and doesn't show any empathy - and that can lead the one speaking to think "They are a selfish person and don't actually care how about I feel" (and is, quite likely, an accurate assessment at that). Empathising counts for a lot, I feel, even if there honestly aren't any "solutions" with the best will in the world.

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  9. This is a wonderful idea and you are the ideal person for it. So many times I have started to write a comment here and find myself just unloading and getting far too personal. Then I just delete the whole thing. Just the act of writing is somewhat therapeutic, but having a listener who is concerned but not directly affected by my problems (as a family member would be) would be wonderful. Sometimes we have things that we need to talk about but don't want to bother family and friends. On the flip side, whenever I am faced with evaluating my strengths for a volunteer position I first think about the fact that people seem to want to tell my all about their lives, the good and the bad. I recently ran into a man I did not know in the soup aisle of the grocery who talked to me at length about his recently deceased wife and how he is coping. It was a fascinating story. When I came home and told my husband he said, "you know, you should tell that story somewhere, maybe an article." Of course, I won't. I agree that it is often the listener who gains the most.

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    1. Your experience at the store is probably more common than most of us know. The ability for lonely people make a human connection is very basic need and too often left unfulfilled. I hope this program offers a way to help folks make that human hookup.

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  10. Well I've been experiencing this a lot lately, and I'm still working. Recently, I started working with a life coach which has helped me think about what's next for me. So yes I think this would be a great service. I speak with my coach once a month for 15 minutes. After the conversation I feel motivated to work on my life plans. For those of us without a spouse or a children in close proximity, it is a blessing to get a call from someone who motivates you.

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    1. Excellent, Gail. A good listener who can motivate us to do better can help so many folks.

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  11. What a wonderful project to get involved with Bob. As you know, I'm 58, divorced after 28-years of marriage, and didn't know what to do next, however, I've always wanted to join the Peace Corps. So now I'm a primary education, English teacher in Lesotho, southern Africa. I recently got an e-mail from an 80-year-old woman who has also been nominated by the Peace Corps, and will be serving in Lesotho later this year. So you see, there are always options if you feel lonely, depressed, or want to help others and experience a new adventure in your life. I am hoping that Peace Corps, Washington D.C. will like my proposal, on how they can attract new 50+ volunteers, as I've now experienced the recruitment process and training which I believe does not apply to the older people who want to serve.

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    1. You have been a friend for several years, Sonia, and always an inspiration. From the barefoot days through now you don't let obstacles stand in your way. You find a solution to a problem and work it out. You are a gutsy person.

      I have high hopes that this project will offer others the motivation and "permission" to follow their dreams, resolve what is holding them back, and feel supported in the process.

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  12. This is a great idea, Bob, but I wonder if there is any training provided for the volunteers. Many people have a tendency to either try to fix things by offering advice or to try to buck the other person up by engaging in what a friend of mine calls "one-downsmanship", pointing out that the depressed person really doesn't have it so bad by offering examples of others who have it worse. Neither of these responses are in the spirit of the project, but well-meaning people who think they are good listeners might not really be good at this. -Jean

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    1. That is a very important question, and at the moment I don't have the answer. During this initial phase of the project's development I think the people behind it just want to gauge the reaction to the concept.

      Then, there will be specific ways developed to make sure those who field the calls don't fall into the traps you mention. But, you are quite right: the way a call is handled will be crucial.

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  13. I'm another voice with a positive reaction to this idea; like the virtual village, or cohousing,this will take advantage of today's technology to connect folks to one another.

    I know you will keep us in the information loop; thank you! I'm looking forward to seeing how the idea progresses.

    pam

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    1. You are added to the plus side, Pam. I will have regular updates as the project evolves.

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  14. Bob, I think this is a great idea. I'd love to be a listener but would want to know what kind of training is involved. I'd also want to know what backups are in place for callers who need more than listening. edz

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    1. Two important questions I have also asked. I will keep you up to date.

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  15. Great idea! I'd love to be a listener too.

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    1. With your background in mediation you would be an excellent listener, Linda. I will keep you in the loop.

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