About IBD - Hearing Isn't Listening

Hearing Isn’t Listening

“Let me know if you need anything!”

“You can call me anytime!”

Content warning: mental health, trauma, gaslighting, violence.

You’ve probably said something like this: I know I have. You’ve also probably been on the receiving end of it as well. But are you truly prepared to help someone who is experiencing a crisis? If you’re the one in a crisis, would you really reach out for help, or accept the help that’s offered?

This is going to start out sounding like a Star Wars blog, but I promise you that if you give me a little latitude, I do get around to a point.

As a Star Wars fan, I’ve watched the feature films many times. I know it’s often thought of as a story for kids or something that’s escapist fiction. And it is those things. But if you want to look deeper, there are themes that are significant and applicable to our daily lives.

The last time I was watching Revenge of the Sith, I realized how the character of Anakin Sykwalker was showing everyone around him that he was in crisis. But they did not help him.

A Complex Situation

For those who are unfamiliar, or who don’t think about the Star Wars universe as much as I do: here’s a summary. Anakin is a young man who is training in the Jedi Order. The Jedi are, in simple terms, warrior priests: invested in holding space for justice, freedom, and truth. They’re usually referred to being on the “light side.” The Sith are a similar group, though not organized or accepted as the Jedi are, and are considered to be on the “dark side.” The two “sides” are in a constant struggle for power.

Anakin loses his way in the Jedi Order, and begins to flirt with the “dark side.” He eventually crosses over completely, and takes a new form and a new name: Darth Vader. Darth Vader is a pop culture icon but it should be noted that he is ruthless and responsible for horrific tragedies in the Star Wars universe. We should be afraid of Darth Vader.

However, the changes to Anakin’s character is a slow burn. There are so many decision points at which his story could have turned out differently. He makes poor choices, to be sure, but he is also failed by almost everyone around him.

Surrounded By People—But Alone

The people closest to him fail to recognize subtle changes. The way he disregards authority is accepted with a shake of the head, as if there’s nothing that can be done about it. He brags about his abilities. He kills an adversary, even though this is not how Jedi prefer to resolve such situations, and his superiors make excuses for him.

He is taken under the wing of a Sith Lord, who sees these cracks in his character, and nudges him to make destructive decisions. His love for his mother and his secret wife (Jedi aren’t supposed to have attachments, let alone spouses) lead him to try anything to keep them from harm. He kills innocents — children, even — because he thinks this is a path to achieving his goal of saving his wife, and sparing him the pain and trauma he felt when he lost his mother.

Anakin’s mentor (my personal favorite, Obi-Wan Kenobi) either fails to understand what’s happening or actively thinks the situation will never lead to tragedy. The Jedi Council, comprised of experienced and powerful Jedi, are distracted and don’t take an active enough role in Anakin’s training. He’s treated as special, and is allowed to operate outside of the usual methods. But the rules and the code Jedi live by are there for a reason: to prevent powerful people from doing great harm. Yet, Anakin is given freedom to live outside this code.

He’s Talking, But No One Is Truly Listening

What really stands out to me now, much more clearly than in 2005 when the film was released, was how many times Anakin told people he was in crisis. And they did nothing. In fact, Obi-Wan and his wife, Padmé, have a conversation about the changes in him. Yet they come to no conclusion or plan of action. They never act in concert, rather they talk to one another without Anakin being present.

“I feel lost,” Anakin says to Padmé at one point.

“Lost? What do you mean?” Padmé responds. She asks him to confide in her, but then shuts down the conversation, asking him to pretend they they are in a more carefree time.

People depend on Anakin for their emotional needs. It could be argued that his mentor was seeking fame and glory by being the one to train him. For these reasons, his mentor and his lover are either unable or unwilling to come to terms with the fact that Anakin needs counsel and probably should be removed from his responsibilities until he has dealt with his fear and trauma.

Instead, he’s separated from his mentor and is further taken into the confidence of a Sith Lord, who encourages him to take harmful, and frankly, murderous actions. His story eventually ends in a “redemption” of sorts, but only after inflicting significant suffering and trauma on the entire galaxy for almost two decades.

We Need to Actually Listen to One Another

I’ve used the story of a fictional character to describe how someone can appear strong and on the right path, but actually be going in the wrong direction. However, it happens in real life all the time. How often have you heard someone say, “I never thought they’d do that,” after a person close to them has taken an action while in crisis.

Now, we’re not Jedi or Sith, of course. There’s no cosmic struggle of good vs evil. But we do have the potential to help or harm one another. Learning about ourselves and understanding our own challenges in connecting or listening to other people is important. Because we might not be taking in what they’re actually telling us.

Everyone needs to have their needs and concerns met, even people who appear to be sure of themselves. When we depend on someone else, it is really difficult, even traumatic, to see when they are the ones that need support. They’re strong, they’re capable, they’re the things we aspire to be. But they’re also still human.

Think of the strong people in your life: family members, mentors, patient leaders. You depend on them, but who is available to them when they need someone to tend to their mental health?

Every human on the plant is living through a collective trauma, making it a difficult time to turn up and turn out for others. It’s easy to get lost in the cracks and crevices or to get bogged down in the mundane tasks of daily life. We sometimes only put together the pieces in hindsight, after someone has experienced a crisis.

Instead, it’s time to be brave and to boldly offer true support and connection. Ask the hard questions and listen to the difficult answers. Think about the things we are saying to one another without using words. Notice the little changes that might mean someone is in need of more support. Be intentional about reaching out to one another and truly connecting.

Many of us don’t know how to support someone or where to turn when they need care that we can’t provide. The first step is recognizing when a situation is beyond what you yourself can do, and reaching out to members of your community who can help. There are resources, and I’m not saying they’re easy to access or going to fix everything, but people may not be aware of what’s available to them.

I’m including some resources here. It’s not a complete list. And honestly, some of these web sites are not easy to navigate at all but that’s something that can change, especially when we interact with them and provide feedback. Look at them today and get familiar before you need these services. Your local health department, which you can find with the first link, might actually be the best place to start.

Being intentional about relationships is not something we often talk about. But it’s important to build community. And it’s hard. It’s difficult to attend a support group or show up in a space as a new person. I often see other adults joke about how difficult it is to make friends as we get older, and it’s true. It’s work! Relationships are work. But it is one way that we can prevent someone we care about from feeling lost and alone.

Because right now, and probably for some time to come, most of the people you know are likely feeling lost and alone. Don’t change the subject on them.

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