Tuesday 20 February 2024

The joys of intelligent listening


The joys of intelligent listening

On January 18th 2018, a devastating storm brought the whole of the Netherlands to a standstill. I happened to be one of many in my dentist's waiting-room. Conversations about the weather and more sprung up. A woman sitting next to me asked "And what is your work? "Oh, I'm an artist - I paint music." "Huh...? Wait a minute, you mean you've memorised the score and paint in synch with..... I'm a neurologist - how can your brain do all that in real time?" "Well, Doctor, my brain has been practising painting "movies" with a paintbrush for fifty years...It's a long story." That encounter in our dentist's waiting-room led to years of delightful discussion.
Dr. Maaike van der Graaff, Neurologist, watercolour, 68 x 50 cm. 2019

A lot of people pretend to be listening, but they don't hear you because they are already preparing their reply. Yet if you can discover a common understanding, listening can be sheer joy.  When you give and take, it's like playing music together, it can be deeply moving and memorable. Musicians actually practise listening to each other. If only politicians could learn from their example!

Doctors who are good listeners show an intelligent interest in the whole person. "Tell me - how are you?" It's an invitation to share a lot more than just physical complaints. 

"Oh doctor, what a relief; you really hear what I'm saying. And I feel seen and encouraged by your wise smile of understanding. I know my time is nearly up, but I could give you a hug. Your words are music to my ears!"