A photo in thirds. Bottom third is a band of green gras with three clock dandelions to the right. The next is a brown tilled field. And top is a grey sky against which stands a leafless tree

2024 Grateful 43: Kanji and a history of loneliness

I’ve had a few conversations recently where I’ve interrupted myself to give assurances like:

I’m not blaming you.

This isn’t about you.

I’m not saying it’s your fault.

I’ve had to. Because when I point out something that went wrong, wasn’t done right, or the painful (literally) consequences of what’s happened or not happened, the automatic reaction is defence.

They stop listening.

Their eyes glaze over as they start preparing their defence.

But once I say the magic words and redirect the perceived blame, there’s an audible sigh of relief and a visible opening up. It seems that we are united with a common enemy. Now they can listen.

Or do something that approximates listening.

So often we listen to reply rather than to understand. I know. I do it myself. I have to make a conscious effort at times to stay with the conversation.

Clinical counsellor John Taylor has an excellent piece on deep listening in which he explains Kanji:

The Japanese Kanji Character for “to listen” 聴 includes the symbols for ear 耳, eye 目, and heart 心. It reads, “In listening carefully I give you my ears, my eyes, and my heart—my full awareness”; a superb image of deep listening.

Ears to hear what’s being said. Eyes to watch the non-verbal cues. And heart to feel the meaning.

I’ve just finished reading John Boyne’s excellent book A history of loneliness.

Odran Yates enters Clonliffe Seminary in 1972 after his mother informs him that he has a vocation to the priesthood. He goes in full of ambition and hope, dedicated to his studies and keen to make friends. Forty years later, Odran’s devotion has been challenged by the revelations that have shattered the Irish people’s faith in the church.

It is a moving, insightful read, a book worthy of your time. I’m grateful that I sorted the 300+ unread books on my Kindle alphabetically and read each one as it pops up, regardless of my mood. Otherwise, I suspect I’d have put this book ar an méar fhada.

If you read it or have read it, let me know what you think.

Imagine how much tragedy could be prevented if only we practised more kanji.

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