Recently, I listened as a friend recounted a jarring adolescent experience. After my friend finished, another listener reacted to the story with a comment that struck me as flippant, even mildly dismissive. My friend didn't outwardly appear to be put out by the comment but the scene has re-played in my head ever since.
I think it was Stephen Covey (author of "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People") who I first heard say that listening deeply to others is like giving them oxygen. When I sense someone is sharing a story about their pain, a trauma, or even adolescent discomfort, my initial instinct is to lean in. More than a few times, I've heard others ask "What good does it do another person if I sympathize with them?" Of course, the answer is it does no good at all. The past is past; pain cannot be undone.
But that question ("What good...?) always strikes me as beside the point. A better question might be "How can it hurt me as a listener to let someone tell their story?" Good listening often requires little response; it costs nothing to be silent. And silence after someone has told their story is preferable to drawing glib conclusions, making judgments, problem solving.
What kind of listener are you? I have an old friend who I've heard tell stories of mis-treatment he endured as a young boy in school. Each time he tells it, the pain of the memory is apparent. I hope I've been a good friend by giving him the oxygen he needs.