Friday, October 07, 2011

Not listening

Yesterday I travelled up to Perth to speak at a Round Table discussion on feminism and being transgender.

I was pleased to be asked, because it was organised by a feminist research and pressure group; my late partner was one of it's founders, and for a while was it's co-director.

I said what I'd planned to, and the discussion seemed to go very well. People were clearly interested in the isues, were very eager to speak about it, were respectful to each other, and the event was skillfully chaired. It all ran it's course, and at the end everyone expressed satisfaction at the outcome.

Everyone but me, that is. I started to shut down quite early on in the proceedings, and then became ore and more distressed as the morning went on. I was too distressed to see why; the distress seemed disproportionate to what was actually happening; I felt inclined to reproach myself for it. "Neurotic" and "over-sensitive" were the words forming in my mind.

It wasn't till after I left the building that I began to understand that one of the main features of the morning was people queueing up to speak, saying their turn, but seemingly unable to listen to each other. No-one noticed this, particularly, because it's a normal feature of meetings, where the real business, the serious business happens in the margins and the conversations that happen in the lunch or the coffee breaks.

Only later still did I start to see different ways I could have structured the meeting - if I had been chairing it - that would have helped people to listen to each other.

Only this morning did I understand that a massive feature of my childhood suffering was the fact that there was nobody to listen to me. And that consequently I spent many many years not listening to myself.

If I had been able to, I could have spared myself many years of suffering.

It's not just my problem: children, in general, are not listened to. So we all grow up, and then, as adults, have the most immense difficulty listening to each other.
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