The Listening Booth
The other day Lucy’s psychiatric booth - from the Peanuts comic strip - popped into my mind.
For those old enough to remember (it debuted in 1959) it was a simple booth like a kid’s lemonade stand, but instead of Lemonade 5¢, it was PSYCHIATRIC HELP 5¢.
Here is the debut strip:
Lucy sits behind her booth, an empty chair in front.
Charlie Brown sits on the chair saying “I have deep feelings of depression...” Lucy is listening.
Charlie Brown asks, “What can I do about this?” Lucy is thinking.
Lucy says “Snap out of it! Five cents, please.” Holding her hand out for payment.
So the new storyline begins and then continues, with Lucy doling out her brand of mostly nonsensical advice to cure Charlie Brown’s depression, my favorite of which was “go home and eat a jelly bread sandwich folded over.” Even though this could be a fun and funny look into how far we’ve come in the arena of psychological therapy/counseling/help my imagination took a different turn.
In my mind’s eye I saw LISTENING 5¢ booths scattered throughout our cities and malls, all across America. The booths would be open 24/7 and each booth would have a person trained in Listening. These Listeners would come from a vast rotating army of people of all ages, ethnicities, and class. And their job would be very simple. To listen.
If you go to the Oxford English Dictionary and look up the word listen, you will find that the first definition - to hear attentively: to give ear to: to pay attention to - is now archaic (meaning obsolete, old-fashioned, behind the times, no longer in use) or poetic (used in poetry). Really??? When did we lose that first definition? The second definition - to give attention with the ear to some sound, to make an effort to hear something - is now the operative definition. Hence the word listen is pretty much only used to mean a physical act, as in “John listened to Beethoven.” It is no longer used to also mean the way John listened to Beethoven...a listening that wants us to pay attention. What a loss!!!
If we return to the OED once again and look up the word attention - we find that it is the mental power or faculty of attending; earnest direction of the mind, consideration, or regard; especially in the phrase to pay or give attention. (I love that you can pay or give attention interchangeably).
We must bring the original definition of listen back into first place! And there is no better way to do that then with The Listening Booth. They would be everywhere. No appointment needed. The payment would be 5¢ - because people feel better if they pay something for a service and almost everyone has a nickel and if they don’t then it’s free. The time allotted would be contained and kept short. Not only to protect the listeners (as with any skill one gets tired and needs to step away from their task) but I have found from experience that when one is in the presence of a really good listener one doesn’t need much time; just like eating a really good piece of dark chocolate, one doesn’t need much before one is satisfied.
Can you imagine how much more peaceful we would be if we had a Listening Booth available in between Whole Foods and the Drug Store? Between Macy’s and the Apple Store? Between low income housing and high income housing, between schools and daycare centers, corn fields and cattle farms, Starbucks and McDonalds. Perhaps we wouldn’t need to go shopping so much, or our habit of looking at our phones every second would relax, or our sense of alienation and isolation would be softened, our anxieties soothed. We’d have a spring in our step, feel more buoyant, less burdened, happier, maybe even joyous! We might find ourselves smiling for no reason at all.
Because the real truth, the hidden-in-plain sight secret with good listening is that it comes wrapped up in Compassion. You can’t have one without the other. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself. First, practice listening - some of my favorite teachers in this art are trees - they are incredibly good at listening. Then, when you feel ready, set up a booth with a sign. Sit and wait patiently. Very soon someone will come and sit on that empty chair and start talking. All you have to do is listen …. as in pay attention … and soon, after just one person probably, but surely not more than two, you will begin to feel the warmth spreading through your heart.
Can you see it now? Thousands and thousands, millions and millions of Listening Booths shining like stars across America, creating one long line of unbroken light and compassion.
~ Megan Rose