A Poem About Listening   (Ray Houghton, M.D.)

Please, just listen.

When I ask you to listen to me, and you start giving advice, you have not done what I asked.

When I ask you to listen to me, and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings.

When I ask you to listen to me, and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me, strange as that may seem.

Listen! All I asked was that you listen, not talk, or do… just hear.

Advice is cheap: A dollar twenty-five will get you both dear Abby and Billy Graham in the same newspaper, and I can do that myself.

I’m not helpless. Maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless.

When you do something for me that I can, and need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and inadequacy.

But when you accept, as a simple fact, that I do feel no matter how irrational, then I can quit trying to convince you and get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling.

And, when that’s clear, the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice.

Irrational feelings make sense when we understand what’s behind them.

So, please listen and just hear me, and if you want to talk,

wait a minute for your turn,and I’ll listen to you.


At the Center we do a LOT of listening.  The Companions are the focused listeners.  To help us learn the art of listening, we have read some books, and shared poems and articles.  Here is the list of those we have found most helpful:

Bard, Marjorie Shadow Women: Homeless Women’s Survival Stories (Sheed and Ward, 1990)

Ellis, Marc  A Year at the Catholic Worker (Paulist Press, 1978)

Gateley, Edwina I Hear a Seed Growing:  God of the Forest, God of the Streets (Source Books, 1990)

Henderson, Katharine Rhodes  God’s Troublemakers: How Women of Faith Are Changing the World (Continuum, 2006)

Lindahl, Kay The Sacred Art of Listening (Skylight Paths Publishing, 2002). See esp. p. 134 for “Nine Guidelines for Listening to Others.”

Pinkola Estes, Clarissa Untie the Strong Woman: Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul (Sounds True, 2011)

Remen, Rachel Naomi M.D. Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal (Riverhead Books, 1996). See esp. p. 217 & 242.

Rennebohm, Craig  Souls in the Hands of a Tender God:  Stories of the Search for Home and Healing on the Streets (Beacon Press, 2008)

Shinda Bolen, Jean  The Millionth Circle (Cihari Press, 1999) – Everyone who becomes a Companion is asked to read this book.

Smith, Gary     Street Journal: Finding God in the Homeless (Sheed & Ward 1994)       Radical Compassion: Finding Christ in the Heart of the Poor  (Loyola, 2002)

Varnier, Jean Becoming Human (Paulist Press, 1998)


Huffington Post  “Are You Listening, Or Just Reloading?” Posted July 8, 2010 by Russell Bishop.

“The Voice Within” by Martha Beck from Oprah, August 2011.

“The Voices Inside Their Heads: Gail Horstein’s Approach to Understanding Madness.” by Tracy Frisch from The Sun, July 2011. “The Attentive Mind” from Think on These Things by J Krishnamurti found in The Sun, August 2011.


Sewell, Marilyn (ed.) Cries of the Spirit: A Celebration of Women’s Spirituality (Beacon Press, 1991). A collection of poetry by and about women. See esp.  Councils by Marge Piercy, Now I Become Myself” by May Sarton.

See also our poetry page on the Blog..