To Listen Carefully
From the Summer 2001 Newsletter
(Written by an inmate in the Violent Offender Program (VOP) at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center)
In terms of listening carefully, I am focusing specifically on learning to consider the needs of others rather than always thinking of myself first.
In the past, when communicating with others, my focus has always been on myself. I always had to be right, I could never be wrong. I refused to accept or listen to a point of view that differed from mine, and it was very hard for me to sit and listen to what a person really had to say. In refusing to listen to others, I would use word manipulation and anger as tools to keep the conversation going my way and to prove my points. I created victims by using guilt and aggression as a means to be right.
In taking the VOP program, I have realized that my actions, especially during conversations, are where I create a great deal of my victims. I want to change this. I truly do not want to continue hurting others. In addition, I have the desire to build my character. How can a person of character not realize there are times when he is wrong and admit those times?
I am now aware that I am hurting others. In realizing this, I can use empathy by viewing situations from the other person's point of view. I have begun to consider what the person is thinking and feeling. By considering that person, and by empathizing with him or her, I can center my focus on him or her and away from myself.
Another step I have taken is using the tool of relationship negotiation that was given to us by an outside program facilitator, specifically the rules of communication. By following these rules, I can see them work. By not getting agitated and by remaining calm, I can see a person is more receptive to discussing how he or she really feels and what is really bothering him or her. I can see that he or she is more receptive to speaking with me in the first place. In following the basic rules for communicating, I can get things accomplished because we are working together, instead of having someone working from the defensive.
An obstacle that I have come across in putting this theme into practice is in combating my self-image. Why do I feel I have to be right? Why do I have to have things my way? Why do I really refuse to admit there are times I am wrong? What am I out to prove? Another obstacle that I have found is that people don't know how to take me because they are so used to the old person. They are so used to the argumentative, "always-right" person, and, to some extent, their level of communication is still geared toward that person. It has been hard for them to adjust to me as a person who is really interested in what they have to say, both good an bad, and who can handle that in a positive manner. They are still guarded.
I believe the biggest thing that I have learned is that I cannot change myself overnight. What I can do is begin working on the problem areas. Once I identify these areas, the key is to fix them. Another step is to continue to practice and build on my communication skills, especially to "do what I say I will do." By practicing and speaking with people as they deserve to be spoken to, people will see the changes, and they will become receptive to communicating with me on a level that benefits them and me.
In the future, I would like to be a person who anyone can come to and really speak about what is going on inside of them. I don't want people to be afraid to come to me. In order to do this, I must continue to be receptive to others. I have to continue to change and to practice those changes. The people who are close to me should have the right to speak their mind and feelings. I have to continue to give them this opportunity. They have the right because I have given it to them because I care. In caring about them, I have to care about them in all ways and not in just selective or self-serving ways. I have to care fully!