Deep listening is easier said than done. I work as a nutritional consultant over the phone, and I speak with people from all over the country who have questions about the supplements we sell or just general questions about health, diet and lifestyle. I get way excited when I get to speak with fellow vegans and vegetarians. Most days it's really interesting and some days it's kind of like one of the episodes of Parks & Recreation where Amy Poehler's character is getting irrationally questioned or yelled at during a town hall meeting: "Why doesn't your park have hamburgers? I WANT HAMBURGERS AT MY PARK!" I will admit, sometimes all of the nonsensical questions, endless complaining and negativity really gets to me. I remind myself silently to take a deep breath, to not take it personally and to listen to the person as deeply as I can. No judgement, no thoughts about anything other than what the person is telling me--just be there to 100% listen to and serve that person for how ever long I am on the phone with them. I speak with non-vegans all day, and I work in an office where I am the only vegan/vegetarian. Sometimes I feel very uncomfortable counselling people about non-vegan choices, but I am not getting paid to be Super Vegan. I am getting paid to be helpful. Believe me, I take every opportunity to educate people in making healthy, vegan choices whenever I can. Sometimes it's not so cut and dry, though. And sometimes (though rarely) a 100% vegan life is not appropriate for people.
Case in point: today I had an interesting call from a woman who has a hereditary genetic disorder called fructose intolerance. Her body lacks an enzyme that is necessary in order to break down fructose. Most vegetables and all fruits are off limits to her or she becomes violently ill. When left untreated, HFI can be fatal. She shared with me that she became a vegetarian in college and almost died (!!). She would prefer to be a vegetarian, but she can't. Actually, she would prefer to not have to live her life with a very limited list of foods that she can eat and an extremely long list of things she can't eat, including most supplements. And I thought my shopping trips and restaurant adventures were annoying sometimes? It's far easier to be a vegan, especially these days when even casinos are veganizing their restaurants.
It started as a angry complaint-type conversation where we almost got into an argument. I became defensive and irritated before I heard the whole story about why she was calling. I heard the stress and anger in her voice and I could see how this whole interaction was going to go unless I checked myself. So I took a deep breath and stopped fighting and just listened, thinking, "Hmmm, I wonder what will happen now?". Curious and friendly: you almost can't go wrong if you keep that in your heart. Any time my curiosity starts to get edged out, I know I am in trouble.
It ended up being a great conversation where I not only learned a lot from her about her condition and ended up with her being happy and thankful, but I was able to also learn something about my listening skills. Although I think of myself as an excellent listener, I loooove to be right when it comes to so-called scientific facts. Occasionally the evil debate bug bites me and I want to intellectually duel someone until I "win" the debate. Not useful. I'm not a motherfucking lawyer. I'm a nutritional consultant who happens to be a vegan and a half assed student of Buddhism. Extending compassion to all sentient beings does not include giving them an intellectual beat down. What Would The Buddha Do? Maybe drink a nice hot cup of STFU. Smile, breathe and listen. Be a witness. Be humble. Be open. And definitely be curious.