My Favorite Story
One of my favorite stories!
Read about Molly. A young woman struggling with life and mental health. Slated to be committed to the State Hospital for life, find out how listening, not labeling and empathy changed the trajectory of her life.
Chapter 19. Listen deeply.
Another great story!
“Always leave people better than you found them. Hug the hurt, kiss the broken, befriend the lost and love the lonely.” -Richard Hagen
True story. Meet again Dr. William Glasser. I highly recommend this author. He has some disruptive things to say about education, society and psychiatry. Dr. Glasser’s book Warning Psychiatry can be hazardous to your mental health, is a tremendous read.
Glasser, William Dr. Warning Psychiatry can be hazardous to your mental health. USA: Harper Collins, 2004.
In Glasser’s book, Al Siebert writes of his own experience, forcibly committed to the psych ward. He was studying Psychology and was thinking outside the box, something his educators had clearly instructed him to do. As a psychologist he also shares some stories of patients he worked with. One such story is of a young woman named Molly, who was admitted to the psychiatric ward. This was the era when Thorazine was the solve the problem drug of choice. Prescribed to thousands of mental health patients, high on numbing effect, low on results.
Molly’s doctors were ready to commit her to the State Hospital Psychiatric Ward because she quit talking to anyone, furthermore she also claimed God had talked to her. Can you believe the audacity! Who wouldn't agree that she needed to be committed? Yes, I'm kidding!
Mr. Siebert asked if he could perform a few psychological tests on Molly before she was transferred. Permission was granted so an appointment was set up. Al had prepared some questions for Molly. Questions like, “What would happen if I just listened to her and don’t allow my mind to put any psychiatric labels on her. What would happen if I talked to her believing that she could turn out to be my best friend”?
Questions were what got Al involuntarily committed to the psych ward in the first place. This man was a brilliant mind and found himself in serious trouble after questioning his wife, the Church and the Psychiatric establishment. Al’s searching excerpt in Glasser’s eye opening book should be mandatory reading.
On their first meeting Al asked his prepared questions and a few more. Molly shared that she had sought approval from her parents but found none. As an example, she got first chair playing the clarinet in the high school orchestra. Feeling sure dad would be proud of her for this, he was not. Just to prove it, he broke her clarinet on the table and said she would never amount to anything. You know this wasn’t an isolated incident. You can be sure Molly was getting a steady barrage of the “you are worthless” message. She had some relationship difficulties in college and a boyfriend ended his relationship with her. Molly found herself in an extreme state of loneliness, gaining her a spot on the Psych Ward.
This story has a profound Value Message that struck a chord with me the first time I read it. I'll talk more about this later. When asked about God speaking to her, Molly said. "I felt like the most special person in the whole world". Visits with Molly were encouraging, and she seemed to be improving.
Do you know what happened next? Yes, I'll bet you do. I wouldn't even have to tell the rest of the story, but I will. The following paragraph is directly from Glasser's book.
At the morning reports during the next week, we heard that Molly was talking to people, participating in ward activities, dressing better, and wearing makeup. The plan to commit her was postponed. The supervising psychiatrist said, “This may be a case of spontaneous remission. You can never predict when it will happen.”
Molly's story was pivotal for me. I started to see people through a different lens. Started judging less. Started being more curious and listening more. Started asking more questions and started thinking more outside the box. The Ego Box especially!
In a later visit Molly asked Dr. Seibert if he thought God actually spoke to her, or did she just imagine this. I can't be one hundred percent sure about the answer to her question.
However, I can tell you my truth about her question. Having children has taught me about God speaking to people. When we are vulnerable, hurt and lonely, we may be the readiest to listen to God and any message he would have for us. God's message is always different from what we are accustomed to in this world, as Molly found out.
If my children were somewhere facing a difficult experience, lost, alone, afraid or on the Psych Ward with limited communication from me or if I were dead, I'd want them to hear and understand this message: "I love you, you have value and furthermore you are the most important person in the world to me!"
Have you ever been distraught about something, and no one seemed to care or listen? Do you know how therapeutic it is just to feel heard? It’s much better than medicine. Believe it or not, you are completely worthy of being heard. Being heard will be one of the most powerful Value Messages you will ever speak. We all crave to be heard and known. Dr. Siebert’s simple and genuine listening when needed most was the Value Message responsible for getting Molly out of the Psych Ward.
The consistent steady verbal vomit of, “You will never amount to anything, you are worthless”, was the message that got her into the Psych ward.
The two messages of, “You are worth something" and "you are worth nothing" are at war with one another. Most of us struggle in this conflict every day. This conflict comes from being on the fence about value. Wherever you are, you will find warriors with many a battle scar, weary of this tiresome skirmish. Wherever you are, you will find opportunities to take sides. It seems to me that Dr. Siebert understood Molly’s real value and gave her space to see the truth about it. I’ve got some more real good news for you here. Every person on the planet can be involved in this dogfight. Why? Because everyone has what it takes or can learn what it takes to make a difference. Listening, a smile, kindness, curiosity and friendship goes a long, long way baby! Especially listening.
Hearers are plentiful, listeners are powerful!
Reflecting on Molly’s story, I want to explore more about listening. Everyone has heard admonitions as to the wisdom of listening. If this skill is so important, why is it not offered as a subject in school or college? Don’t spend time pondering that question. Instead take time to learn this mighty skill on your own. Listening can be encouraged but difficult to teach.
Am I a good listener? I do consider myself a good listener, but the more I know about listening, the less I know about listening. Listening is true empathy personified. Interestingly listening and empathy aren’t the same thing, but it’s impossible to cultivate one without growing the other. Is it possible that we are afraid of listening? To listen is to let go. Let go of ideals, traditions, mindsets and comfort zones. Show me a good listener and I’ll show you a person with empathy, I’ll show you a leader and I’ll show you someone who connects with people. Hearers are plentiful, listeners are powerful.
So powerful is the art of listening that I’ve dedicated an entire webpage to this subject at thevaluemessage.com/listening. Check out the links on my website for more information. Listening, though a necessary skill is not complex, my web page mostly consists of web links to Thought Leaders speaking about the skill of listening. This isn't to say speaking isn't important, it’s just that we all know there’s a reason we have two ears and only one mouth.
Listening is an undecorated hero and skill set. Compared to talking, yelling, persuading and screaming. Listening is low profile. It’s a vacuum compared to an explosion. Yet listening has altered the tide of war. Has softened hatred. Turned enemies into friends. Saved countless lives and calmed the masses. What other power or skill can boast of such things?
A TEDx talk I highly recommend is given by William Ury. (The power of listening: William Ury, TEDxSanDiego). Mr. Ury’s entire career has centered around the power of listening. He has worked with National Leaders, high level business executives and countless other groups.
“Seek first to understand then to be understood.” -Steven R. Covey
Did God say?
Let me add a few words about God speaking to Molly. I hope you don’t think this is irreverent or sacrilegious, but along with her doctors, God also was aware of Molly's case. God raised an eyebrow about the messages she was receiving long before she or her doctors were aware of any sign of trouble. “I need someone to send a message to Molly about her value, even if it’s just a small one. Surely her parents will do this” God thought. “Oops, I guess that’s not going to work. Let's see, maybe her teachers or fellow students will show up with a message of hope. Hmmm, not there either, what about her boyfriend? Could he be the one with the message? I guess not him either.”
“Now about the boyfriend”, God might further ponder. “Right now, he isn’t in the position to see the Value Box. Maybe ten years down the road he will see people differently, but not right now.” “Let’s just give him some time to ‘percolate’ and see what happens.”
God, now getting a little anxious about the situation. Alarmed at the dismal prognoses of the State Psychiatric Ward, decides to take action. God says to himself, “I’ll just talk to Molly personally, give her a little spark of hope and see what happens”. So, he did just that. “Molly, I want you to know, you are important to me.” He whispered.
Now here is what happens with Molly. She gets this feeling, like she is the most important person in the world. “Whoa, what was that? What in this world is going on? It feels like God just told me I was the most important person in the world. I haven’t had a feeling or heard anything like that in my entire life. ‘OMG!’ Who can I tell about this? Not a soul, they all think I’m seriously crazy anyway. I’m just going to stop talking to everyone, because everything I hear is nothing like what I just heard", she says to herself.
God then sees Dr. Siebert coming into the picture and says, “Whew, Al will have a message about her value, so he can take it from here. I don't need to say anything further to Molly, in time she will have an understanding about her value.”