The past few weeks I have been filling in for a school social worker who is on maternity leave. One of my biggest challenges has been working with a group of second graders who never stop moving or talking. The other day the exercise I wanted to engage them in was on the topic of listening.
I had photographs of one person listening to the other. The object of the exercise was to name cues from the girl’s body language and facial expression which showed she was listening. In their wiggly, jiggly way, the kids did pretty well with this part of the lesson. It was the next question that threw them. How do people in your family show they are listening to you?
The entire lesson changed gears at this point. It became clear that these kids did not feel listened to by the adults in their worlds. Instead they gave me a list of things that distract grown ups from hearing what is going on with their children. From mood altering substances to myriad electronic devices, the list of things that comes before hearing children was staggering.
I began looking more closely at the faces I passed in the halls and gathered around the tables in the cafeteria. How many of these students had someone in their life they could talk to who would listen, validate and guide them with thoughtful responses?
A very long time ago a man named Maslow hypothesized that each of us has a hierarchy of needs from very basic to more sophisticated. Our lower level needs must be met in order for us to move up the hierarchy.
I pulled up this image of Maslow’s hierarchy from Wikipedia and determined that being listened to fit into the lower level categories of safety and love/belonging. What struck me was the higher levels that can’t be reached if a person never feels listened to. Self-esteem, respect of others, problem solving, morality.
How many stories hit the news every week in this country about someone who strikes out at others, many times strangers, strangers for whose lives he seems to lack respect? How many desperate people turn to violence because their frustration has peaked and they don’t possess the problem solving abilities to make life better? How many fewer stories like this might we hear if we as a country committed ourselves to helping meet the basic needs of all our children?
Breathing. Food. Water. Sleep. Homeostasis. Excretion. Security of body, of resources, of morality, of the family, of health, of property. Basic needs.
Our culture today has too many problems to enumerate. Addressing all the issues before us can overwhelm our systems and overwhelm each of us on a personal level as well. If we would only commit ourselves to insuring that our children’s basic needs are met, I truly do believe much of the rest of our trouble will resolve over time.
Will you commit?