It is estimated that 18 billion dollars will be spent on Valentine’s Day this year. This figure includes 4 billion dollars on flowers, 4 billion dollars on jewelry, and 3.6 billion dollars on dining out. The other, a bit over 6 million dollars, includes candy, cards, and other gifts. While I’m no Scrooge when it comes to Valentine’s Day, I would like to suggest another gift that we can give someone we love. This gift is priceless yet costs nothing and we can give it to any one we love at any time. It is the gift of listening.
Roy and Dorothy Fleming have given the gift of listening to each other day in and day out, throughout their 80 years of marriage. That’s right, 80 years. Roy was 20 and Dorothy was 15 when they married in Milwaukee on February 6, 1932. They were featured in an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this past week and you can read all about their relationship here: http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/couple-celebrates-80-years-of-compromising-qu43ef7-138829074.html
One of the attributes that Ray says was most attractive to Dorothy when they met was that he was a good listener. Apparently Ray’s ability to listen was genuine because it has lasted all of these years. Dorothy said that the true reason for their 80 years of happiness is that they have both always been good at compromising. In order to be good at compromising both people have to work at listening. Compromise can only be created when both people have worked to listen to what their partner truly needs and wants and are willing to bend.
One way to think about how wonderful it feels to have someone give us the gift of listening is to reflect on how bad the opposite experience feels. Have you ever found yourself talking with a person in a crowded room only to realize that the person you are talking with is looking over your shoulder wondering who they are going to talk with next? They are clearly not listening to you and there are few experiences that feel worse.
We have just the opposite experience when someone gives us their full attention. We feel appreciated and valued when someone really listens to us. The most important quality of good listeners is that they listen not just with their heads, but they listen with their hearts and souls. They listen to what you are not saying as much as to what you are saying. They listen to the feelings and longings behind your words, and never judge you for what you are thinking or feeling.
You cannot find the gift of listening online or at a store. You can however find it in your heart, and you can choose to give it to everyone you love this time of year. We may not have many relationships in our lives that will last 80 years like that of Roy and Dorothy Fleming, but we can be assured that the important relationships that we do have will be happier and more life giving if we truly work to listen to each other each day.
Happy Valentines Day to all of you.