Why Do I Listen at Length to Complete Strangers?
As a volunteer Listener for the Samaritans, I often find myself listening to someone for well over an hour with little interruption from me. While my role involves creating some empathy with the caller, including the occasional question or comment, so that they feel safe to talk freely about whatever distress they are feeling, the crucial part of the call is simply to listen without judgment. What Samaritans offer is not an advice line or counselling, but an open-hearted willingness to allow an unknown stranger to rediscover that kindness and patience are still the most basic traits of us humans, despite the harsher elements of the modern world that they may have been encountering.
If I think about the “why” on a deeper level, the answer to the question “why do I do it?” probably starts with my own feelings of appreciation for the gift of life. I’m not a religious person, but this recent quotation from Prem Rawat sums it up for me: “In its purest and most potent form, my gratitude for this life is for the gift itself; not what it enables me to do, just the experience of existing in this world right now.” [my emphasis added]
When you feel grateful, there’s a natural motivation to give something back to life.
In turn I feel a real sense of privilege at being able to provide a listening ear for strangers in distress - because of course the reason people feel safe to call the Samaritans is the reputation that has been built up over decades of providing this safe space where every call is treated with kindness and in strict confidence.
There is no doubt that there are many unpleasant things happening in the world today, whether it be on the level of politics, economics, ecology, society, family or personal. So many of the apparently well-meaning commentators in the media seem to spend most of their time looking for someone to blame. Not a lot of inspiration.
So it’s wonderful to be part of a team that has this one common thread – the recognition that every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and compassion whatever they are going though, even where they have reached a point where suicide seems the only option. And though we don’t tend to talk about it as a group, I believe every Samaritan Listener has a store of gratitude that gives them the patience to keep picking up the phone, no matter how taxing the last call might have been.
There are about 70 volunteers at my local branch - an amazingly varied group from all walks of life and age groups. Eight of us are participating in this month’s Samarathon – 26.2 miles over the course of July (so no big sweat…!). I’ve managed the miles, but I’m well short of my fundraising target – and embarrassingly far behind other members of the team...!
This is the Samarathon message to our supporters:
Samaritans know that life can sometimes be incredibly tough. Each year, our 20,000 volunteers answer more than 5 million calls for help by phone, email, SMS, letter, and face-to-face visits at one of our local branches or in local communities right across the UK and Republic of Ireland. We're here 24/7, before, during and after a crisis for anyone struggling to cope. This life-saving work wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of our amazing supporters. Thank you.
So if you’d like to donate – anything from £1 to £100 as a thumbs up for the Samaritans will be wonderful – please click here.