A recent TED Radio Hour episode titled “Memory Games,” highlights the mystery of memories and how we create narratives about our life all the time. The episode ends with the last speaker’s question to the audience: “…Our lives are the sum of our memories. How much are we willing to lose by not paying attention to the human being across from us who is talking with us, by being so lazy we are not willing to process deeply?”
The episode made me think. How much of my day and how many of my interactions with people, especially with clients who depend on me in a very important way, are rote, simply the product of habit?
The first time I speak with potential clients, they usually have a very clear idea of the information they think is important and want to convey. I also usually know exactly what types of questions I want to ask. When did the event happen? With whom? By whom? How? Were you insured? And, one of my favorites, which can lead nearly anywhere despite my intent, what happened next? I even have lists of questions I sometimes follow.
It still surprises me how often the narrative potential clients have created about what is important is different than what I see as most important. Usually neither of us is exactly right. The biggest gifts (read: really, really good and powerful facts) I have been given in cases have come not in response to one of my preconceived questions or from a stream of consciousness monologue from a client. Rather, those gifts have come from conversations during which we have each been fully present and mindfully listening and responding to one another. In that setting, no one tells or directs the narrative; it simply emerges.
Yes, I still need to ask about sometimes seemingly mundane facts to know whether I will be able to help. But once I determine I can, and at every step along the way thereafter, the narrative is an invaluable guidepost.
I am reminded that just because I do something every day does not make it less significant or less meaningful. Perhaps, it is just the opposite and each opportunity to listen intently is a gift in and of itself. As we begin the New Year, I look forward to those opportunities and the gifts that may follow.