by Michael J. Formica
Central to every relationship is communication, and genuine communication relies on listening. Not just listening to the words spoken, but listening wholeheartedly to every aspect of the conversation taking place.
As we race headlong into the season of what can only be termed rampant consumerism, O. Henry’s story “The Gift of the Magi” comes to mind. A young couple of little means each has a single prized possession: she, her hair, and he, a pocket watch. He sells his watch to buy her combs for her beautiful tresses, while she sells her hair to buy him a pocket watch chain.
Although the moment each discovers the others’ sacrifice may be one of true love, every moment before it is one of true listening. Not only does this harken us back to the spirit of the upcoming season, where our gifts to one another can be a reflection of genuine human connection, but it reminds us it’s not the gift that counts, so much as the intention behind it. This draws upon our willingness to give of ourselves, which is less a momentary gesture of charity or largess, and more making ourselves mindfully available to one another every day.
It’s no secret we are awash in a sea of objects, but, in the end, the only thing we really have to give one another is our love and compassion. Wholehearted listening, along with the gestures it inspires, reclaims us from that sea in which we are adrift and sets us upon a course toward something considerably more authentic.
Now, all this is not to say we should refrain from plundering the depths of the big box stores, or patronizing our local merchants. What it does suggest is that we should do so with a mindful intention reflecting our authentic human connection, not simply give lip service to the “shoulds” we attach to the season.
An authentic gesture, like that found in O. Henry’s tale, is one full of meaning and purpose; it’s not simply a gesture for its own sake. It is heartfelt and wholehearted, expressing the depth of our relationships and reinforcing their value. In making ourselves available to that depth, listening carefully and giving lovingly, we will find ourselves connected to the true spirit of the season.
Michael J. Formica, MS, MA, EdM, has been a practicing psychotherapist, counselor and coach since 1988. He is founder of LifeWorks Compass LLC, in Doylestown. Connect with him at 215-622-5798 and MichaelJFormica.com. December 2014.