Really listening

Elizabeth Hersh is Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanuel (TE), and a blogger on the Jewish Light’s website (   Joel Iskiwitch and John DeMott, authors of the  “What can you do?”  sidebar, are congregants at TE.

By Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh

My greatest pet peeve is the proverbial question, “How are you?” and as you start to answer, the person is out of ear shot and you have a view of his back. Closing in to this annoyance is the narcissistic approach people take to every conversation. 

I was sharing a health scare of someone close to me with individuals I consider close friends. I could not believe when the talk turned inward. It was suddenly about themselves or their children or children I didn’t even know! We were taken on tangents to scenarios that sent my heart pounding outside my chest. 

Why do people have the need to make everything about themselves? I am certain it was not done to bring me comfort or to change the subject. Are we that lonely that at any opportunity we will seize the chance to make it “all about me?” What has happened to active listening or just plain listening? 

Silence is good. We tell those who make a shiva visit not to chatter unnecessarily. A sympathetic hug, facial expression or “I am sorry” works wonders. Tell me if you want to talk about you? Create another opportunity to say, “Hey, I want to share this with you.” Wait until I am finished. Segue into your story, but please let me have my moment to open my heart. 

I have learned some lessons through this. I pray that I use them wisely. I hope I can become a better empathetic listener.