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Friday, September 12, 2014

To Listen. To Feel.

I've been following Humans Of New York's Facebook posts for a while, and I've learned a lot from this guy's work. I learn about faith, hope, and struggles. I learn that all human, wherever they are, are basically the same: all have emotions and happiness and sadness. Through his world tour I learn the damaging power of war and poverty, described so eloquently through photos and captions which was far better than any news reports I've read so far. I learn that you don't have to be a fully-educated or highly-trained to create masterpieces, sometimes you just need to open your heart and conduct your work with wholeheartedly. I learn that you can actually love what you do and I can feel his honesty and patience and passion throughout his work. Yet today I learn something new. I learn that sometimes you need to set yourself aside and let other people shine, that sometimes you need to listen instead of being listened to.

In all honesty (and to satiate the cynical part of me) there is a good chance that Brandon's modesty and elusiveness is more of occupational requirement and he might be this boisterous guy that made you really uncomfortable at parties. Let's face it, he can't exactly run around taking pictures of people and ask their stories when his face was all known, right? And the world definitely don't need another selfie-freak, we got the whole Instagram app for that. It is a good business decision to not include his self portrait in any of his work, and even the photo of him that I saw was taken by somebody else. This guy, for all we know, could be a deceiving unworthy piece of human that pretend and convince us that he is the good guy just like any celebs would do.

Yet people talk to him. People share their thoughts and stories with him. People love him and adore him. It won't happen if he choose not to listen.

When my husband and I had a fight or heated argument, the worst ones would be the ones where neither of us stopped to listen. I often would argue with myself internally, even as I was arguing with him, telling myself to stop and listen to what he has to say. It rarely works. When we argue I already have this solid idea in my head of what I believe, what should happen and how things should be, which of course is what initially sparked the arguments because he has the same sentiment too. It is also what happened between me and the company I've worked with before, where we parted ways because we can't reach an agreement on how things should work. It is, basically, what happened in any other kind of arguments that I or anyone else got ourselves into. We just don't listen.

One of the cores of Indonesia's system is called Musyawarah untuk Mufakat, or discussion to reach conclusion. Not surprisingly we use this method less and less, and in the eve of our 70th independence anniversary we have relied heavily on voting instead. It is too difficult and too time consuming to sit and try to talk everyone else into whatever you believe in, when you can exert your power (in number) and swiftly get what you want instead. Voting may be the best method when you are in a large number and time-pressed to reach an agreement, but do you really want to use it when there is only two of you (you and your spouse/kid/boss/etc)? Whenever you forced someone to acknowledge your point of view without him/her actually understanding and accepting it, it creates thorns of dissatisfaction and resentment that - when accumulated - became a time bomb. 

In our wedding vow, my husband and I promised each other that one of us will (and have to) have the coolness the say: “Stop. Let’s not continue for now”. This is easier said than done. A lot of time our fight wasn't even about the cause of the argument itself, it almost always quickly switched to a show of ego stubbornness and refusal to be defeated (i.e. accepting the other's opinion). Even as I hurled my thoughts and arguments towards him, I am vaguely (and sometimes fully) aware that I just don't want to give in. I don't want him to have the upper hand. I don't want him to get the best of me. And when I said him, it is actually more about anyone whom I ever had arguments with. Realizing the ego within us is a very good step towards understanding people, but it doesn't make it a lot easier. For me, my insecurities and prejudice towards my 'opponent' (be it my husband or the stubborn client at work) make it difficult for me to actually stop and listen to what they have to say. It is especially agonizing when I felt they didn't stop and listen to what I have to say. Both are good examples on how the show of ego surfaced and taking over the discussion. To be able to listen and understand what other have to say, and thus prevented a full-blown argument, requires a great deal of humbleness from me; which my pride will not allow.

Yet what is pride, anyway? And why do we think listening and understanding requires a chunk of our pride? Some say pride is bad, that it is one of the seven deadly sins. I think pride is a necessity to a degree, because in order to maintain our self confidence and dignity we need to be proud of ourselves. However, thinking that we lower and compromised our dignity by accepting what other people have to say is truly a misconception. The analogy would be like thinking that by being nice to people we are at their feet and somehow became their mat. If anything, understanding people's point of view would allow us to be a better and more accepting person, which is a great trait to have if you want to successfully live your life as smooth and as easy as possible. The knowledge about how other people think (and not just what you think they think) is also invaluable for both your professional and personal life. How many times have you sat gloomily and said loudly, "I don't know what the F he/she/they want!" If you listen, if we listen, we probably won't land in that situation as often as we did now. 

All said and done, it will still be difficult. As I wrote this article, I envisioned myself patiently listening to my husband if we ever got into an argument again, and now that I knew how important it is to listen I would actually listen to what he has to say instead of keep saying "I hear what you say, but here's the thing...", which was short for "I don't even want to listen to you because it is irrelevant, but here's my thought which is way more relevant than yours." Yet I knew insecurity and prejudice would take over, and I would be fighting for my own dominance during the argument. Or any argument with any other people. It is sad and disgusting at the same time, as it highlights my own pitiful emotion and how I am not 'big' or 'mature' enough. But I will keep on trying to listen. I should keep on trying to listen. Maturity is not earned by age only, it is an ongoing process that can only be achieved by actively trying to better myself. When I fail again (as I knew I would), I will have Brandon's work to remind me: sometimes it is better to listen. Each and everyone of us has a story to tell, a thought to share, a different perspective than our own; and we can only see that if we took the time and patience to listen, and then, to understand.

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