Friday, June 5, 2015

The art of listening and consoling

Long known for having a sympathetic ear, Harry often encouraged and consoled his employees at the office about personal matters, as well as their work. He might have been doing a lot of that around the time my mom asked him if he had any advice for me before I went out on my first "date" in junior high, maybe 1965. "Be a good listener," he said. I found the following excerpt in a letter in Harry's computer files. 

Harry gave advice, but more than that, he listened. This 
must be the 1970's (notice the wide tie).

In the government, in my job, every summer for about 25 or 30 years, I had summer interns working for me, young people we hired for the summer while they were in college. Some I had for only one or two summers. Some for three or four. Some I was able to hire full time or temporarily after they graduated. And a few who worked for me summers while in graduate school working on advanced degrees.

Throughout those years, I found myself supervising young men and women boys and girls between 18 and 25 generally. And, after a while it dawned on me that they looked upon me as a sort of substitute Big Daddy or maybe an Old Dutch Uncle. Many of them confided in me all kinds of problems from financial, to sexual, to addictions, to academic failures, to career goals, etc.

If they were getting advice from me, I was learning more from them. And, the most valuable thing I learned was how to listen. Listening, I have since discovered from conversations with experts, is the best therapy you can apply to troubled persons.

What about heartbreak?
I also found the following letter in which Harry consoled someone (not an employee) about a relationship. He obviously wrote it for one person, but if others may benefit, I believe it’s worth sharing.

I am keenly aware of how difficult it is to transmit knowledge and experience from one generation to another. In our case, separated by two generations, it is even more difficult. If you confide in your parents about your very personal love life (many young people don’t tell their parents anything), then you will have received words of wisdom from them by now. I do not have words of wisdom for you. I can only tell you how I feel and what my experience has been.

To begin, we are not all so lucky as to find that one person who was meant just for you, not in a lifetime of searching. We are not all so lucky as to recognize our soul-mate when first we meet. I was the luckiest of men when I realized in my teenage years that there was one person destined for me and I knew, even at that young age, that we would marry one day. We did, when I was 22 and she was 21, and it has now been 66 happy years.

But it doesn’t mean that I didn’t date other girls or she other boys. It is absolutely necessary that each young person, both male and female, meet and interact with members of the opposite sex before they can know for certain that any particular one is THE one. In that sense, you were only doing what comes naturally and you should feel no guilt about it. If he has not done the same thing, that would be unnatural. In any case, having strayed, so to speak, you are now in a better position to tell him that you realize that he is THE one for you. If he does not accept that, then he is the one with a problem, not you.

"I was the luckiest of men when I realized in my 
teenage years that there was one person destined for me."
Now, I am not so old that I can’t remember the anguish and the agony and despair that accompany a parting of the ways. Heartbreak is a phenomenon that everyone has experienced. You are not unique in that respect. But it’s also true that everyone who has experienced it has survived it. That may be small comfort for you, but how you survive it is up to you.

You have to keep an open mind and be receptive to new experiences, maybe even new romances. And be confident in the sure and certain knowledge that, if he is indeed THE one for you, he will find his way back to you. Believe it and sit tight and give him time to find his way. And know this, the male of our species is usually slower to learn than the female, slower to come to the realization of true love, and slower to recognize what he really wants.

I realize, of course, that it’s easy for me to say these things. What’s happening to you is not happening to me. I cannot feel what you are going through. But, I do have empathy and I do, I really do, know how you feel. But you will get through it, and emerge a stronger and more confident person, believe me.

Did Harry share an experience with you that helped you make a decision?

1 comment:

  1. Harry's friend, Meredith Hall Weberg, wrote:

    That photo [Harry at his desk] brings back such memories! I was one of Harry's "Summer Hires," slightly different from an intern. One summer, when the interns (seemingly more privileged than summer hires) got to attend various events and talks, Harry insisted the summer hires go too. One event that stands out even now was meeting and hearing the stories of one of the Iran hostages, who were held captive for 444 days. I worked for Harry in the summers from 1980 through 1983, and later as a full-time employee for years.