Life Essential: Listening

Let’s talk about the “N”  word. Neglect.

Neglect:  To pay little or no attention to; to fail to care for or attend properly; to ignore or disregard.

As a hairdresser, I knew what it looked like for a woman to neglect the care of her hair: lengthy roots, massive split ends, accompanied by faded, brassy color.  When this woman sat in my chair, she struggled to make eye contact in the mirror. It was clear that she was not comfortable facing her neglect.

Then, there was the woman who highly valued the presentation of her mane. This woman carried smooth, shiny strands regularly serviced with expensive oil treatments; she maintained her hair color religiously and owned a wide array of pricey products. This woman would sit in my chair and make direct contact with me, and herself, confident in what she wanted and occasionally adventurous to try something new.

Caring for anything becomes an art when you highly value it.

And let’s not forget the men. Men know how to care for things, too. Oh yes, they do. I’ve seen them standing in their driveways on Sunday afternoons waxing and washing that precious ride. Sweet baby girl is getting talked up, shined up and pampered where the sun don’t shine. Her needs are heard through the noises she makes when he starts her up, and he eagerly listens for any notification of pride – or concern.

So, there we have it: both men and women know how to care for things they value. And if they don’t know, they are willing to learn. And when they really care, they make caring for it an art.

The question today is: have we lost the courage to hold ourselves responsible when the things we value fall apart?

Health, marriage, family unity, career, faith – all of these things we value demand a level of responsibility to ensure sustainability and healthy development. We say what we believe, we talk about what we value, but it is in how we live that reveals how well we care for them.

As I stood with clippers in hand that day, I reflected on years of care: color, hi-lights, bleaching, haircuts, styling products – every single process that expressed the value I placed on hair. It took my 10 year daughter getting diagnosed with Cancer to help me see all that I had allowed to stand in the way of caring for the most valuable people in my life. While my hair looked professionally cared for, my own child had been suffering and I wasn’t aware enough to notice. Her voiced concerns were “noise” to my ears; whiny, the product of childish complaining. I simply hadn’t cared enough to make my mothering an art – and therefore, it had become an inconvenience.

Standing in the bathroom of room 701, at The Children’s Hospital in Denver, I shaved it all off. This became a public declaration to myself and to my daughter. Never again would I value the pursuit of something outside our family more than I value my family itself.

A baptism into unity. An emancipation proclamation. This was the ultimate throw-down. I was a letting go that which no longer served me and my family. I was making her a promise that day: to walk beside her and carry this burden with her until we ALL had safely passed through it.

Today, I watch leaders of all kinds pay more attention to the numbers and outside goals, then they do to the needs of the people they serve. I listen to volunteers and workers speak up, voicing challenges and concerns, only to be regarded as complainers and whiners.

When our greatest desire is to listen, we will make it an art. It is the art of listening that can lead us into greater understanding, greater unity, greater compassion – and ultimately, a greater expression of care for one another.

Delia Nichols_21

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