Saturday, April 28, 2007

When Someone You Know Talks About Suicide

The first duty of love is to listen.
- Paul Tillich, United States theologian (born in Germany) (1886-1965)

Perhaps the world's greatest need is for people to listen to each other.

Everyone agrees that love is a wonderful thing, that everyone should be loved and have someone to love. However, it's rare to find places where people actually teach what love is, how to create it, how to express it, how to recognize it in others, how to enhance it once it exists and how to make it last. These are all teachable skills, but in general they are not skills that we teach.

No loving friend or relative is more loving than when they listen to us. When we go through our most critical crises, more than anything else we need someone to listen to us as we think out loud. We need someone who will pay attention when we say things that sound stupid after they reach open air. We need a backboard for our thoughts.

One of the best ways to cope with crises is to talk about them. People who find their way to psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists pay others to listen to them. These experts, more than anything else they do, get paid to listen. Most often they guide their patients to solutions by reviewing with them what they have said, then allowing them to reach their own conclusions and solutions themselves. The best healing is always self-healing.

Modern society has a greater need than ever before for social science professionals, as we can see by watching lists of them expand in every city and town. Perhaps the need for them has increased so dramatically because we don't have enough close friends who will listen to us with love.

We tend to have many casual friends and hangers-on, workmates and neighbours who are with us when we host a good party but may disappear at the slightest whiff of trouble. Those who have gone through a divorce will often attest that their friends treated them as if they had a social disease when their separation or divorce was announced. Find yourself broke and you will likely also find yourself lonely, as if whatever you have was contagious.

The statistics regarding suicide and murder-suicides within families have increased shockingly. Reviewing these cases after the fact, the most common characteristic described of the perpetrators is that they were "loners." They were loners for a reason, that reason mostly being because they had no one who would listen to them and act as support when they most needed it. That may seem oversimplified, but it's at the core of almost every social problem.

Imagine this: a workmate comes to you to confess that he plans to kill himself on the weekend. What would you do? Most people would drag out the platitudes they have heard before, that someone loves them, that more people care about them than they realize, they they should think of who would be hurt if they ended their life. Yet what these people need most is to be taken somewhere quiet and allowed to talk, talk endlessly and without restrictions. Maybe with lots of coffee.

They need to know that there is someone they can count on who will listen. They need to know that between them and the cold dark earth is someone who cares. They may not have the skills to know how to find and develop such a friendship or even the nerve to tell anyone else about how welcoming death seems to them.

They need to know that someone cares. Often that caring can be shown by someone who will listen to them. It's a kind of love, a love for others of your own kind.

Few people talk about dying or about wishing their life was over or about killing someone unless they have a critical problem. If you hear something like that, it may be your chance to save a life. Or many lives. It may seem like a huge burden to adopt, but you become the appointed one.

The last thing someone who is having trouble coping with his personal problems needs is to feel alone, to feel that no one matters, to feel that he won't be missed. To feel that there is no one in his life who will listen while he blathers on about something just to keep his mind away from the terrible tragedy he is trying to avoid.

Someone needs you to listen. Now. Everyone feels more secure with their life when they know that someone will stand between them and tragedy and listen.

It's one good way to show someone you love how much you love them. Just listen and encourage them to talk about anything they want. That's love. It may transform you in the process.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the social necessities of life more clear so that we can address them.
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