To Understand, Not to Be Understood

This morning's therapist. 

This spring, I was editing a book about teaching music in underserved communities. In one section, the author was writing about maintaining high expectations, and he quoted his own teacher, who said, "Teach everything you know, every day." That makes a lot of sense in the classroom. Even with beginners, we can probably teach everything we know about music, every day, from meter to meaning. But here's where it doesn't work: WITH PEOPLE. 

I had a hard moment last week. Very hard. I was talking with a couple of family members, and they were explaining something that upset them about the family. They had feelings and they were sharing them. I felt that I understood, and immediately launched into older-wiser-splaining. I was trying to say, "Yes, I have felt that. But here's a broader perspective on that. Look at it this way." That's not how it came out. I think it came out something like this: "Blah blah blah blah blah blah." Because guess what? Who cares what I think, in this context. All they wanted was to be heard. They did not wish to "understand." They were not asking for advice. They did not need to hear my experience, which as it turns out, is very different and not even comparable to theirs. What they needed was validation in a situation in which they had felt invalidated. They wanted to be understood. Loved. Accepted. VALIDATED.

Somehow, in my infinite wisdom (sic.), I missed that. In immediately launching into teacher mode, because... well, you know... I'm a teacher... I neglected to recognize that this was NOT a teaching moment. This was a listening moment. It was an important lesson. 

So, my dear author, I did love your book, and I will use your advice in the classroom. But here's what I just learned: We do not have to teach everything we know, every day. Sometimes we have to stop teaching and be the student. 

Lesson learned. This teacher/student failed the test first time around. I will have to re-do it and resubmit in order to pass. 

I hope I do.