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Listen and Learn

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Ladoo was my little much-loved dachshund who died in March 2013. In the aftermath of her death, I was surprised by the number of people who contacted me to convey their condolences. Perhaps, I hadn’t expected so many people to understand my bond with this furkid. I was deeply touched by all their gestures. There was one person, however, who stood out among them all. When I telephoned her, I apologised for being sad and promised that I would soon be able to move on. Her response was, “This is your time to feel. Take however long you wish.” I have tried to describe what this meant and the closest I’ve come to is this: she offered me her time and space.

The one way in which to evaluate how valuable this gift turned out to be is to compare it with the ‘advice’ I’d received prior to that. He had told me what I should have done, what I didn’t do correctly and he would have done in my situation. In an emotionally charged situation, he added to my sadness by dumping her own memory files on me. His aim, I suppose, was to see if he could identify with my experience at some level and assert that he knew what I was going through. Instead of feeling comforted, I felt judged and that I had somehow failed Ladoo.

Georg Grey ( put into words what happened: it was the difference between sympathy and empathy. ‘Sympathy means that I´m available with all my skills and experience. … Empathy means that I forget all that and put myself in the position of that other person … into his shoes. And that's mighty difficult. But it's the only way I can really understand (or at least come very close to understanding) of what´s going on inside that person.’

Grey explains that our emotions are intertwined with our reality. Even if you can ‘see’ someone’s reality, you can’t understand his emotions until you find out what he feels. He adds, ‘There is no point in understanding the objective problem of that person if I don´t find out what it’s doing to him emotionally, because that's where he really feels it, that´s where reality is really happening to him. And I have to be willing to suffer with him, at least temporarily.’ Grey says that, the most vital question to ask the person you’re trying to help at this moment is this: “And how does that make you feel?”

How did this work in a practical way? Well, my friend who offered me her time and space tried to understand me on an emotional level. Through her listening, I came to accept that I hadn’t been so bad after all. I had done the best I could with the situation I was in. In fact, I was pleased that Ladoo’s suffering had ended. As Grey says, since I felt understood, my emotional level dropped and I saw a possible way forward through this grief.

What I did next was attributed to the help I received from another friend, Anne Munro-Kua, through the work she’s done which involves something called ‘CLEAN’ language. I asked myself the question ‘what would I like to have happen now’? At the end of the process that comes with answering this question, I knew I wanted to honour Ladoo is some way. By magic (for it seems as though that’s how it all happened), I had the opportunity to convert my stories about Ladoo into a small book, where the proceeds of the sale are channelled to charitable causes dear to me.

I have since tried to emulate what my friend did and it’s paid many, many dividends. I’ve come across many people who are what Grey refers to as ‘literally constipated with negative feelings.’ For example, a 14-year-old girl who had a nervous disposition about her verging on destructive. Really listening to her, which meant investing my time and putting aside my own worries and agenda, I discovered a talented, but unsure child who lived in the shadow of her supposedly prettier sister. When she came to see her own beauty, her confidence soared and she is now a happier teenager than any of us would have expected.

To paraphrase Grey, the by-product of learning to listen well is that it has become a relief sometimes to forget my own worries. Indeed, my own worries seem to acquire a new perspective and that is good.

Ladoo Dog’ by Aneeta Sundararaj is a collection of 12 stories about Ladoo, a dachshund with a big heart. These stories will make you laugh and you will certainly appreciate dachshunds even more.

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