Unsung Listeners: The Story of Hotline Volunteers

Guest Post by Marc Wong

Unsung Listeners - the story of hotline volunteersMeghan watches her mother finish a telephone call.

“Mommy, why are you crying?” she asks gently.

“I’m ok,” mommy sighs, “I’m ok.”

Meghan leaves the room and comes back moments later. “When I’m sad, I hold on to Mr. Brown,” she says, handing over a teddy bear to her mother.

On another occasion, Daddy is talking to Meghan about a tough decision he has to make.

“When I have to make a big choice, I ask Mr. Brown,” Meghan says.

“And what does Mr. Brown say?” asks Daddy.

“Nothing,” she says matter-of-factly. “He listens.”

Meghan’s actions give us a glimpse of what selfless, dedicated hotline volunteers do on a daily basis. Just like Meghan, volunteers do not judge. They do not advise. They do not solve problems. They do not interrogate. They do not point out your flawed thinking and actions so you can correct it. They do not tell you to look at the bright side or to be optimistic. And yes, sometimes they will just be quiet and let you speak. Volunteers honor and respect the callers’ thoughts and feelings and they offer their best with no strings attached.

When we look a little closer at Meghan’s words, we notice some other things: Despite her age, Meghan clearly knows something about sadness and making difficult choices. She even shares her life experience with her parents. Volunteers also bring their life experiences and considerable knowledge to each call. I don’t mean volunteers interrupt with their own stories the moment a caller pauses to take a breath. Volunteers are able to share by reaching into their own, sometimes painful, personal experience to understand what the caller is talking about, no more, no less.

Volunteers’ actions, like Meghan’s, are also gently supported by an unspoken sense of hope and decency. Implicit in Meghan’s words are the message that things will get better, that there is good in this world. This is not to say that volunteers pressure, or in any way impose their values or beliefs on the callers. Volunteers are not going to rush you to get “better”. They’re not even going to tell you what “better” means. Instead, they’ll be more than happy to hear what better means for YOU.

Volunteers earn their sense of hope from the knowledge and experience that their selfless work can bring relief. They don’t need to prove that there is goodness or fairness, in private or public spheres. They are satisfied knowing that the work they do can make a difference.

This, then, is the story of hotline volunteers. It is the wonderful combination of skill, knowledge and humanity offered so as to make it a little easier for others to tell their stories. A volunteer offers what is unique and precious to her as a human being so that others may talk about what is unique and precious to them.

For taking the time, having the patience, and putting their hearts into this noble work, please join me in celebrating and thanking all the volunteers!

Marc Wong is a listening expert and author of “Thank You for Listening: Gain Influence & Improve Relationships, Better Listening in 8 Steps”. Connect with him on Twitter at @8StepListen and on www.8StepListen.com.

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