Last week we were invited to a neighbor’s house for Shabbat lunch. Our two older children wanted to sit between my husband and me, so my husband ended up sitting closer to the head of the table with the adults, and I ended up on the other end sitting next to the family’s three teenage daughters.
I struck up a conversation about school with the two eldest daughters, ages 18 and 15. They went to high school ‘outside of town’ and exclaimed how much they loved their school. I asked the oldest daughter what her education was like in her school, to which she responded with a question. “When you ask about education, what do you mean?”
I thought that was a great question. What did I mean by education? Was I referring to how much homework they received on a daily basis; how much studying they had to do in a week; what the teachers were like; how much they learned; or how often they got tested?
I took a minute to think about her question before I answered and finally responded with, “Did you feel like you were challenged to think and explore? Did you feel like you learned a lot of knew things?”
Her face lit up and she started to tell me about a great project she had to do which she really enjoyed doing and how much she learned. This led to her telling me the real reason why she loved her school. She is now out of high school and participating in National Service (upon graduation from high school in Israel, older teens either serve in the army or participate in National Service.) She mentioned that the principals of her school visited each individual student that graduated with her at their national service placement.
Wow. I clearly understood why this young woman loved her school so much, why she couldn’t fully explain why, and why she felt so attached to her high school even after having graduated from there.
She felt cared for, loved, and appreciated.
The conversation I had with these girls prompted a memory that I had from my own high school days. While I had a wonderful social experience at school, I never felt as attached to high school as these girls had to their own high school. My high school was based on, what I like to call, a ‘class’ system – honors on top, lower classes at the bottom – average in the middle. The way the administration and teachers treated the students, I felt (and others may disagree), was in direct correlation with what ‘class’ that student was in. Students received more respect and more attention if they were in the honor class and less of that as you went down the line. I was always an average student, and I was in the ‘average’ ‘class’ – lots of potential, average grades and never caused any trouble. Basically, the teachers did not pay much attention to me.
I have one distinctive memory of a time in high school when I felt I was not being heard or understood. I was a junior in high school (11th grade) and I began to care about my grades (I never failed, but I also never cared enough to apply myself.) I remember being in a class and having a seat in the front row. I enjoyed taking notes and learning new things. I was paying attention and not getting distracted like I usually had in class. I figured out how to take notes, listen, and study. The results were great. I applied myself and ended up doing very well on my midterm exam in this class. I was proud of myself. I put in the effort and cared and it paid off.
The next term came along and the teacher of this course moved the seats around as he usually did at the beginning of each new term. I was placed at the very back of the class, behind the tallest person in the grade, also the star of the basketball team. At my height, a mere five feet, zero inches tall (or short), I could not see a thing besides the back of this student’s shirt and head. I was unhappy with my seating arrangement and approached the teacher at the end of class.
I went up to him and pleaded my case. I told him that I enjoyed the first term of his course and felt that I learned a lot. When I was sitting at the front of the class I was able to focus, listen, take notes, and not get distracted. I was sure that this was the reason that I did well in class and on the midterm exam. I made a request for my seat to be changed to the front of the classroom so that I could continue with my positive learning experience.
This teacher turned to me and simply stated NO to my request. He did not even make an effort to listen to what I was saying. It felt as if I was wasting my breath. All he cared about was the order in his classroom. Did he even care about me, my education, or what I had to say?
Thinking about that situation now still hurts. I remember the humiliation that I felt. I felt disrespected and unheard, like what I was saying or feeling did not mean anything. My attitude in response to this teacher’s reaction was: if he doesn’t care, then why should I?
I ended up going back to my average grades and not making much of an effort in his class for the rest of the year. (Although I did apply myself in other classes once I saw that I could do it.)
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I should have chosen to persevere even though the odds were against me. All I know is that I learned a valuable lesson from that experience; a lesson about what it feels like to NOT be heard, listened to or respected.
When I felt that way, all my enthusiasm was lost, I felt discouraged and not cared about. I know that even when all the odds are against someone, one can still succeed. Research shows that as long as a person has at least one person in their life that truly cares for them, believes in them, loves them, and encourages them, that person can combat all odds and truly be successful in life.
I am thankfully blessed with many of those people in my life, many of whom I handpicked myself because I knew they would have a positive impact on me. I am lucky and I feel that I am very successful in my life now.
How about you? How does it feel for you when you feel you are not being heard? How does not being heard or listened to impact your choices, your self-esteem, your relationships?
What impact do you think it would have on others if you made an effort to really hear what they were saying? What can you do to let someone know that they are truly being heard, understood, and listened to?
This week, take a moment to think about how well you listen to understand a person in your life – a friend, sibling, parent, child, spouse, co-worker, student, etc. – and make an effort to listen to them from their point of view. What does it feel like to be them in their situation? Take a moment to ‘hear’ them and to understand where they are coming from.
I would love to hear what you learned.
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