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This post has been kicking around since early June. On June 11, I saw a tweet (or maybe it was a retweet - I don't remember) recommending people watch a TED video about someone who had survived a suicide attempt 8 years ago that day. Compelled to click on the link, I was amazed the video was done by someone I went to high school with in Hays, KS.

Listening in Your Past

Dave Schramm was a year behind me and editor of the school newspaper when I was writing and drawing editorial cartoons. I haven't spoken to Dave in years, but all the news about him in recent years was of his career at Stanford and his success as a communications educator.

I never had a clue about the challenges Dave (now known as JD) faced.

In the video, JD references a high school English teacher who had committed suicide. I've written several times about our teacher, Dave Wessling, who was such a tremendous personal influence.

Right after Dave Wessling's death, I spoke about our high school years at an alumni reunion dinner, tying the whole talk to lessons Dave had taught us. The closing story was how, during my senior year, Dave had asked me to lecture to his junior lit class about Thanatopsis, William Cullen Bryant's poetic reflection on death. It was only at the reunion dinner, after Dave's death, that I was finally ready to reflect on death and satisfy his request. While the news about Dave's death was probably intentionally sketchy, I could never personally reconcile how someone who had been such a life force in high school could ever feel anything different.

Listening in Your Present

Flash forward to Saturday night, and two conversations going on - one on Twitter, the other on Facebook. On Twitter, I was DMing with a friend facing incredibly difficult medical decisions with a spouse on whether to go through further treatment for cancer. On Facebook, it was with a friend who went through a horrendous divorce, an extended period of unemployment, and only in the past year secured a new job which ended unexpectedly Friday. That plus the individual my friend started dating late in 2010 turned out to be serially unfaithful.

Wow.

Saturday afternoon, I read a story in our diocesan newspaper by Fr. Mark Goldasich about the importance of "listening" with more than your ears. He talked about listening with your eyes, making it a practice to notice when something is wrong with others even when they don't say something and giving them your full attention.

It's great advice. And easier said than done.

Listening in Your Future

To the extent you can't accomplish listening with multiple senses, you need to conquer a separate and equally difficult skill that's all about compassion. As one of my friends put it Saturday night, "I always say go easy on people because you don't know what private hell they are living in."

Make sure you're listening with your ears, your eyes, and as tough as it might be to do in the social media world, with your keyboard. You don't know who you know who is living with potentially life-crushing challenges you'd never imagine if you aren't really listening.  – Mike Brown

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