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All I Want Is for You to Listen: A Personal Story with a Political Lesson

When I complain to my husband of 32 years about something—an argument with my sister or a computer malfunction—he immediately drowns me in a stream of good advice.

“Stop!” I tell him. “All I want is for you to listen!”

We returned from a Fourth of July holiday in a friend’s car, with me driving, the friend directing, and my husband in the back seat.

“Oops,” I say, “I missed the Sawmill River turnoff.”

“Never mind,” the friend responds, “We’ll take the Cross Bronx.”

But a big lighted sign warns us that there’s been an accident and two lanes are closed on the Cross Bronx.

“OK, then it has to be the Third Avenue Bridge.”

When we finally get home on the West Side, my husband is furious.

“That detour made it take twenty minutes longer to get home. I had to pee so badly I almost wet my pants.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, “But there was an accident on the Cross Bronx.”

“Well you should have found another way to get back to the Sawmill. You didn’t even ask my advice on the route.”

“You were in the back. It’s Thomas’s car. I was taking directions from him. He was nervous about my driving. Why didn’t you ask us to pull off and find a gas station?”

“I was in a hurry to get home. I think we need to find a counselor to help you learn to be more sensitive to other people’s feelings.”

“I’m glad to see a counselor. And I promise to learn to be more sensitive to your feelings. But you should learn to be clearer about what you need.”

“That’s not the point. You should have asked me how I was doing in the back seat.”

“OK I’m really, really sorry. I messed up big time. I’ll really try hard to do better.”

“Oh stop it,” he snarls. “When you apologize like that you just cut me off. You don’t hear me.”

Suddenly something clicks in my brain. Time to try active listening, that is, reflecting back what the other person seems to be saying, to indicate you’re paying attention and empathizing with them.

“You must have been really miserable sitting there in the back of the car, mile after mile. And then when we hit all those red lights going down Lexington Avenue, that must have been torture.”

“Yes,” he says, “It was really terrible. I was in such pain.” Then he smiles. “Thanks for understanding. All I want is for you to listen. I’m sorry I put you through all that. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

I can’t resist drawing a political lesson. Against the advice of his staff and of Senate Republicans, President Trump mocked the woman who accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. But in so doing, he reflected the deep beliefs of his base. They roared back in support, sending the nomination through.

The occupant of the White House may be a liar, a crook, and a self-centered bigot. But his base remains loyal because he understands one thing supremely well: When people are unhappy or angry, they don’t want advice, or excuses, or promises, or apologies. All they want is for you to listen.

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