I can probably count on both hands the number of full episodes of Oprah I have watched in the last 25 years.  I am not exactly a member of the Church or Oprah, but I do think she’s a force, an inspiration, a powerhouse, and a wonderful woman who has done some amazing things for individuals and society. I caught MOST of her finale episode, and she said something that really stuck with me. I went and found the transcript, so I could have the exact wording to give it context for this post.

“I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common: They all wanted validation. If I could reach through this television and sit on your sofa or sit on a stool in your kitchen right now, I would tell you that every single person you will ever meet shares that common desire. They want to know: ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?’

“Understanding that one principle, that everybody wants to be heard, has allowed me to hold the microphone for you all these years with the least amount of judgment. Now I can’t say I wasn’t judging some days. Some days, I had to judge just a little bit. But it’s helped me to stand and to try to do that with an open mind and to do it with an open heart. It has worked for this platform, and I guarantee you it will work for yours. Try it with your children, your husband, your wife, your boss, your friends. Validate them. ‘I see you. I hear you. And what you say matters to me.'”

It’s those last few lines that got to me. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m currently reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. In the chapter on parenting, she talks about how children really just want to be heard, and that a lot of the whining, tantrums, etc result not from not getting what they want, but from the feeling of not being heard. She goes through experiments on ways of speaking to her kids and notes that while it can be sometimes exhausting to take the extra steps to stop and really listen to your child, it ultimately makes for a happier, less stressful, less frustrating day. I know, it’s kind of a “duh” concept when you’re not experiencing it, but when you’re smack-dab in the middle of a chaotic morning where NOTHING is going right, taking a beat to listen to your whining four year-old can be a very real challenge.

I’ve started trying it out with the little man. It is bloody exhausting, because I have to consciously remind myself to go against my immediate emotional response, pause and proceed with some statement that clearly acknowledges I have heard him and understand what his concerns are. The idea isn’t to become the world’s biggest pushover and give in to what kids want all the time, but to simply let them know you’ve heard them and that what they have to say matters. It’s hard to do when you’re trying to get two kids out the door on time and someone is refusing to cooperate, but in the grand scheme of things, who really cares if we’re five minutes late but my kid is happier? Not me.

At the little man’s preschool they ask the kids if they have their listening ears on. It seems to me that at most four year olds have thrown away their listening ears in favour of the “I can’t hear you” ear muffs, but it’s an appropriate metaphor for this new experiment. If I want him to have his listening ears on, I’d better have mine on too.

So thank you, Oprah, and thank you, Gretchen, for helping me to find my new ears.