A LESSON IN LISTENING

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I consider myself a great ‘doer’ – give me a basic idea of the outcome that’s required, point me in the right direction, then hold onto your hat, and just watch me get it done. Of course I’ve learned over time that this approach isn’t always helpful; like that time I bought what I now refer to as ‘the inappropriate chocolate cake’.

Where I was and what I was doing isn’t really important, what is important is that it was up to me to come up with an appropriate idea that would act as a gesture of goodwill and celebration at the end of a short program I was involved in running for a group of young people of, let’s just say a very different background to my own.

I had recently just discovered a wonderful French bakery run by a delightful Parisian who made the most magnificent (and expensive) chocolate cakes. Rich, creamy and sweet, yet amazingly light, this was the cake I decided would be the perfect addition to afternoon tea – the hero dish acquired and delivered by a heroic kind of guy.

The cake was presented like royalty and received with gratitude and awe. There was much disappointment as we witnessed it being dissected, but the sheer joy of its consumption promised to be ample reward. Classy, decadent, French – the best idea I’d had in weeks. What could go wrong?

Well for starters, no-one was eating it.

The group were mostly picking, and politely smiling whenever I looked their way. The afternoon eventually concluded, and warm goodbyes were exchanged along with a few handshakes and hugs.

Cleaning up afterwards, I was able to confirm what I had already suspected: no-one had really enjoyed the cake. It was hard not to take it personally, as I had confidently pinned my reputation and standing to that cake, and it had failed me. Then it dawned on me. They hadn’t eaten the cake not because they didn’t want to, but because they had never tried anything so rich and creamy before – they weren’t ready for it, didn’t ask for it, and ultimately, it was wasted.

This isn’t an allegorical tale I’ve just made up as some kind of preachy lesson, or to underline a clever point I want to make about something currently playing out in society, or even just on social media. The chocolate cake was real, the program was real, and the participants were real. The only thing that hadn’t been ‘real’ was me. I had decided what other people wanted – or at least what I wanted to give them – and without any further investigation, headed out on the highway, speeding off in the direction of Egotown, with a shortcut via Selfimportantville.

If I had just stopped to think, ask, and listen, the outcome might have been better for everyone, and in that, yes, I did in fact learn a lesson that has proved useful on some of life’s other roads.

Derek Green,
Managing Editor, The Westsider
editor@thewestsider.com.au

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