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Where are we, again?

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

For most of my life, I've had the privilege of making music together with other people. I spent many lunch breaks in school singing Disney duets and later on, I've sung and played in ensembles, choirs and orchestras of all sizes. But regardless of how many were present at any particular time, there is one thing I take with me from music: everyone is part of reaching a goal. There is a we. Even when there is a clearly designated leader or conductor, he or she is included in the result, not someome who merely gives instructions that others follow.

I've found this especially useful when meeting with children. Spending time with children often means that sooner or later we as adults will give an instruction or ask them to do something. But for a small human being who spends every waking hour exploring things and learning new skills, oftentimes we must also provide the support the child needs in order to understand and be able to do what we ask, at least until they can do it on their own. It might be that we use our words or hands to guide them, but it might just as well be that we validate and show empathy for where the child is emotionally, for their motivation and strength. Or an invitation to find a way and a solution to what needs to be done together.

There needs to be a we - either literally in that we offer our help or in us seeing and understanding them, or trying to understand. Otherwise, our request becomes something that stands between us and the child and risks causing us to lose sight of each other. I often see this as standing on the same side of something, e.g. a problem, an experience or a task.

Even between us adults, standing on the same side of something can make a big difference. A classic example is when we share something that worries or bothers us and are asked if we want advice or just to be heard. I think that many of us often seek connection and to feel understood even more than a solution, at least as a first step. When listening and connection are present, we can look together at what appears to be a problem, but if there is no connection, what is shared will instead become something that gets between us, something that stands in the way of us being able to meet each other, something that makes us feel alone even though there are two of us in the room.

So what might standing on the same side of something sound like? These are a few examples:

“What do you need in this?”

“Is there something I can do for you?”

”That sounds tough.”

“I hear this is something that worries you. I would probably also feel worried if it were me.”

”I have a feeling this task feels overwhelming for you. Do you want me to help you?”

”Something comes to mind when you share this. Would you like to hear it?”

”I'm here.”

I think this is about listening actively, trying to imagine what the other person is experiencing and talking about. Simply being present. It doesn't need to be complicated and we can experiment with it when meeting with others. The next time someone shares something with me – something that happened, a problem, an experience – do I notice any difference if I go over and stand next to them? Quite literally, we may be sitting opposite each other, but if I imagine in my mind that I am standing next to the person and looking at what was shared from the same point of view, what will it be like? Maybe I will sense our we a little clearer.



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