Paulish Home

Listening, Life and Death
Buenos Aires Story

Can the ability to listen make the difference between life and death?

Once while living in Buenos Aires I started a friendship with someone. One day as we were walking he told me how one of his best friends had killed himself ten minutes after talking to him. At the time I didn't make any connection in my mind between the two events.

About one week later, though, I was feeling very discouraged about something and I went to talk to my new friend. After I had talked for just a few minutes, he started doing all the talking and I just fell silent. I realized I felt lectured to and not understood. I also felt somewhat judged. I realized I was feeling worse so I stopped our conversation and quickly made an excuse to leave.

As I was walking home I suddenly had a chilling thought:

This was the same person who had told me his best friend had killed himself ten minutes after talking to him.

My body literally reacted to that thought. I felt a heaviness grip me and consume me. It was as if I had opened the door to a secret room and saw something I was not supposed to see and which I could never tell anyone.

A burning question dominated my mind:

Would his friend still be alive to day had he been a better listener?

Of course I could not possibly tell my friend of the connection I made between me feeling worse after talking to him and what he had told me about his friend's suicide. It seemed too cruel and unfair, since there would be nothing he could do now.

I wondered then, "Even if, as I sadly suspect, he might have been able to save his friend's life by being a better listner, wouldn't I be doing more harm than good at this point to even bring up the subject?" I knew my friend would instantly feel guilty and probably defensive. It could, possibly destroy our relationship. So I decided to say nothing. Yet at the same time I felt and still feel, years later, a degree of guilt for not helping him see that he needs to improve his skills in this critically important area of his life.

I am no longer in touch with that friend but this story is a reminder that it is my sincere hope that one day, every school child will be taught the basics of listening. The more life experience I have, the more I believe that the ability to listen can literally save someone's life.

So in all seriousness I say that listening is a matter of life and death.