82: I Found My Son Again

82: I Found My Son Again

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

  
I Found My Son Again

Every day is an opportunity to make a new happy ending.
~Author Unknown

Let me share with you a story to illustrate the power of gratitude and mutual understanding that emerged through empathic listening.

I have a dear friend who once shared with me his deep concern over a son he described as being “rebellious,” “disturbing,” and “an ingrate.”

“Stephen, I don’t know what to do,” he said. “It’s gotten to the point where if I come into the room to watch television with my son, he turns it off and walks out. I’ve tried my best to reach him, but it’s just beyond me.”

At the time I was teaching some university classes around the 7 Habits. I said, “Why don’t you come with me to my class right now? We’re going to be talking about Habit 5—how to listen empathically to another person before you attempt to explain yourself. My guess is that your son may not feel understood.”

“I already understand him,” he replied. “And I can see problems he’s going to have if he doesn’t listen to me.”

“Let me suggest that you assume you know nothing about your son. Just start with a clean slate. Listen to him without any moral evaluation or judgment. Come to class and learn how to do this and how to listen within his frame of reference.”

So he came. Thinking he understood after just one class, he went to his son and said, “I need to listen to you. I probably don’t understand you, and I want to.”

His son replied, “You have never understood me—ever!” And with that, he walked out.

The following day my friend said, “Stephen, it didn’t work. I made such an effort, and this is how he treated me! I felt like saying, ‘You idiot! Aren’t you grateful for what I’ve done and what I’m trying to do now?’ I really don’t know if there’s any hope.”

I said, “He’s testing your sincerity. And what did he find out? He found out you don’t really want to understand him. You want him to shape up.”

“He should, the little whippersnapper!” he replied. “He knows full well what he’s doing to mess things up.”

I replied, “Look at the spirit inside you now. You’re angry and frustrated and full of judgments. Do you think you can use some surface-level listening technique with your son and get him to open up? Do you think it’s possible for you to talk to him or even look at him without somehow communicating all those negative things you’re feeling deep inside? You’ve got to do much more private work inside your own mind and heart. You’ll eventually learn to appreciate him and to love him unconditionally just the way he is rather than withholding your love until he shapes up. On the way, you’ll learn to listen within his frame of reference and, if necessary, apologize for your judgments and past mistakes or do whatever it takes.”

My friend caught the message. He could see that he had been trying to practice the technique at the surface but was not dealing with what would produce the power to practice it sincerely and consistently, regardless of the outcome.

So he returned to class for more learning and began to work on his feelings and motives, particularly the need to appreciate, respect and empathize. He soon started to sense a new attitude within himself. His feelings about his son turned more tender and sensitive and open. He became profoundly grateful for his son, simply because he sincerely wanted to understood and appreciate his son.

He finally said, “I’m ready. I’m going to try it again.”

I said, “He’ll test your sincerity again.”

“It’s all right, Stephen,” he replied. “At this point I feel as if he could reject every overture I make, and it would be all right. I would just keep making them because it’s the right thing to do, and he’s worth it. I feel so grateful for him and for the hard learning.”

That night he sat down with his son and said, “I know you feel as though I haven’t tried to understand and appreciate you, but I want you to know that I am trying and will continue to try.”

Again, the boy coldly replied, “you have never understood me.” He stood up and started to walk out, but just as he reached the door, my friend said to his son, “Before you leave, I want to say that I’m really sorry for the way I embarrassed you in front of your friends the other night.”

His son whipped around and said, “You have no idea how much that embarrassed me!” His eyes began to fill with tears.

“Stephen,” he said to me later, “all the training and encouragement you gave me did not even begin to have the impact of that moment when I saw my son begin to tear up. I had no idea that he even cared, that he was that vulnerable. For the first time I really wanted to listen. My gratitude grew immensely.”

And listen he did. The boy gradually began to open up. They talked until midnight, and when his wife came in and said, “It’s time for bed,” his son quickly replied, “We want to talk, don’t we, Dad?” They continued to talk into the early morning hours.

The next day in the hallway of my office building, my friend, with tears in his eyes, said, “Stephen, I found my son again.”

As my friend discovered, there are certain fundamental principles that govern in all human interactions, and living in harmony with those principles or natural laws is absolutely essential for quality family life. In this situation, for example, the principles my friend had been violating were the basic principles of gratitude, empathy and respect. The son also violated them. But this father’s choice to live in harmony with that principle—to try to genuinely and empathi-cally listen to and understand his son—dramatically changed the entire situation. The son also felt so grateful for his father and for the understanding they achieved. You change one element in any chemical formula and everything changes.

Exercising the principles of gratitude, empathy and respect and being to able to genuinely and empathically listen to another human being are among the habits of highly effective people in any walk of life. Can you imagine a truly effective individual who would not respect and appreciate others or who would not deeply listen and understand?

~Stephen R. Covey

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