When we were young, I marveled at my older brother Paul. He was so self-confident, so passionate. Like Paul, I felt strongly about my convictions but I was shyer and more hesitant to share them with the world. From an early age Paul was a leader, whether he was playing Joseph in the school’s Nativity play or serving as captain of the drum corps or football team. That self-assurance, that passion are what steered him to become a successful CEO today.

Despite growing up in the same family, with the same nurturing parents, the same siblings, the same rules, the same basic education, we grew into adulthood with very different mindsets. While our love for each other has never wavered, our conversations can sometimes be strained or purposely superficial lest we stray into uncomfortable territory. However, Paul unknowingly helped me refocus my attention on what is most important one breezy evening on my front porch.

Our conversation started off casually, but as the air cooled and the sky darkened, we veered into politics, COVID-19 and the state of our country—topics we rarely ventured into over the years. He talked about the concerns he had and “those who were steering our country in the wrong direction.” I took deep breaths, seethed silently, murmured “mmm hmm” and occasionally asked questions, but did not try to counter what he was saying. He left when the stars shone high in the sky and thanked me for “the great conversation.”

Beth Voigt
The author Beth Voigt (above) and her brother Paul (below) in their high school days.

While I wanted to express my opinions, argue an opposite point of view and insist that Paul was wrong, that night on the porch I resisted. I knew, whether with Paul or others, that too often I am entrenched in my beliefs. Too often I am only focused on espousing my opinions. Too often I don’t listen intently and purposefully enough. Pushing our ideas at each other without truly listening hadn’t worked for Paul and me over the years. That night on the porch was my chance to listen, so I did.

   

For that evening on the front porch—my opportunity to listen more and talk less–I am grateful. It helped me realize that a better relationship, better community, better society begins with me.

Since then, Paul has dropped off magazines, newspapers and other material, sometimes with big red circles, arrows or notations to be sure I catch what he thinks is most important. He has done this with my permission and periodically asks if he is offending me. While I disagree with almost all that he shares with me, some of the articles have given me reason to reflect, to learn, to understand how he thinks.

One article he recently left highlighted the importance of accepting others for who they are and finding commonalities in our relationships. Another focused on cultivating what is important in our lives: relationships, forgiveness and empathy, especially for those who live differently than we do. I couldn’t agree more.

 

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And for that evening on the front porch—my opportunity to listen more and talk less–I am grateful. It helped me realize that a better relationship, better community, better society begins with me. I need to listen and respectfully exchange ideas to find commonality with my brother, whom I love, and others. We all have our differences, but if I take the time to consider other points of view, I will come to understand others better. It’s that simple. It’s truly a gift—listening to another.

A month or so after our porch conversation, Paul told me he was trying to listen more as well. He had dinner with a large group of business associates with divergent personalities and opinions. During that business conversation, he said, he mostly listened, acknowledging it was challenging but enlightening as well. “At heart, I know people can do this,” Paul said. “We need to listen, pause, stand firm, but remain friends and colleagues.”

And siblings who love each other, I would add.

My resolution for the new year is to give the gift of listening more to others.

— Beth Voigt

Beth Voigt is a writer from Summit Hill.

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