Provision #333: Listen Connectively

Laser Provision

Listen connectively. In many ways, that’s what all listening is about. We listen for and make connections that generate meaning, hope, and energy. When that happens, listening becomes a great source of comfort, support, and strength. Whether we listen to our own stories that way, or to the stories of others, connective listening can surprise us with its originality and power.

LifeTrek Provision

Although non-runners will read a lot about running in this Provision, you will also learn a lot about the fifth key to better listening: connectivity. It came to me as I ran through the streets of New York City, for the 34th running of the NYC Marathon.

Last Sunday I was among the 34,662 people who finished the race. It was a great day to have a great time, as in the time of your life, even if the conditions and logistics were not exactly ideal for a great time, as in the time of your race. Here’s how that worked for me.

Although this was my 20th marathon, covering 10 states and 2 continents, it was my first NYC Marathon. The four-hour wait at the start of the race was enjoyable enough, with ample food, space, entertainment, and • most importantly • portable toilets. That’s no small accomplishment when it comes to more than 35,000 people.

But the actual start of the race was a bit chaotic. There were no controls or announcements made, as to when and where people were to line up. Given that the race started six minutes early, some people were still in line for the portable toilets when the cannon went off. I wasn’t caught that off guard, but I did end up far back in the pack, taking two and a half minutes to get to the starting line.

That was the bad news. The good news was that it gave me the full effect of running across the Verrazano-Narrows bridge with 35,000 other runners. Talk about listening to the sights and sounds of the race! There was the NYC skyline off to our left. Three helicopters were flying up above. And the bridge, a massive single-span suspension bridge made of concrete and steel, was bouncing up and down under the rhythmic beat of 70,000 feet.

The bouncing bridge was an odd experience, to say the least. The ground was not always where you expected it to be, depending on whether the pavement was bouncing up or down as you took your stride. That made me think about the collective power of 35,000 people, to bounce such a massive bridge, the vast majority of whom had assembled not to set any records or to win any money but to realize their own personal aspirations of flesh and spirit.

And there were as many different aspirations as there were runners. When we came off the bridge, I almost ran into the motorcycle and media vehicle that were cutting across the course, looking for rapper-turned-runner Sean “P. Diddy” Combs. He had decided to run the race only eight weeks earlier, to raise $1 million for the NYC public schools and two children’s charities.

Raising that money and finishing the race were his aspirations. And he managed to do both, finishing in just under 4 hours and 15 minutes, and raising $2 million.

Although having a celebrity in the race was a bit of a nuisance, it did impress upon me the importance of having and knowing your people. As we came into Harlem, around mile 21, the din of posters and cheers was deafening. This was P. Diddy country, and I know it lifted him up. “I’ve never experienced mental or physical pain like that,” he said afterward, as he thanked his family, friends, and fans for getting him through.

Of course, the NYC Marathon is all about that kind of support, for each and every runner. With 2 million spectators, it feels like you’re running down the shoot at the finish line for most of the race. From the first to the last participant, NYC knows how to treat its runners right. In the case of those who crossed the finish line first, again dominated by Kenyans, the crowds enjoyed three new course records. In the case of the one who crossed the finish line last, Zoe Koplowitz, the crowds were just as generous.

Zoe completed the marathon on purple crutches, since she suffers from multiple sclerosis and diabetes. Zoe, age 55, was tackling her 16th NYC Marathon (she has also finished marathons in Boston and London). They let her start four and a half hours early and she slowly but surely made her way through to the finish: 29 hours and 45 minutes later. She took breaks but didn’t sleep, and had people cheering for her as she finished a day later than most people.

Her finish time hardly mattered. But finishing did. “I think that’s the ultimate lesson,” she said, “you just keep going until you get it done. You do what it takes.” And with each passing year, finishing that race becomes a far more precious experience. That was her aspiration. And for one more year, she got it done.

In my case, I too had family and friends both in the race and in the crowds. Unfortunately, in spite of our preplanning, I never saw anyone I knew apart from the running buddy with whom I started the race. There were points where I stopped and looked for my wife, but I stopped at the wrong places and she was not to be found. Two million people is a lot of people.

When it became clear, toward the end of the race, that I was not going to see her, I became a bit disheartened. That is, at least for me, a part of the fun: to see her familiar face and give her a kiss along the way. But soon after our last rendezvous point came and went, without our making a connection, I saw a poster in the crowd that got my attention.

“Go, Arlene, go!” was all the poster said. It was, of course, just one of thousands of such posters. But this one was striking because “Arlene” is not only an unusual name, it is also the name of someone who played a significant role in my life for about nine years. That poster called her face to mind. I remembered the times we shared together, through church and community projects in Columbus, Ohio.

That poster gave birth to a new way of listening. I may have run 20 marathons, but I have never listened this way before. For the rest of the race, I listened to the cheers and looked at the names on the signs held up by the spectators as a call to remember those family, friends, and acquaintances who have touched and changed my life. Instead of bemoaning the missed connections with my supporters, I suddenly found myself surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who were lifting me up and carrying me through to the end.

June. Bob. Ernie. Laurel. Paul. George. Dick. Tex. Bud. Pat. Mary. Mark. Joe. Nancy. Peter. Sue. Karen. Eric. Winston. Tony. Mac. Tom. John. Erika. Kate. Christina. And yes, even my wife’s name, Megan, were all represented. So were the names of countless others who have been part of my life. The tapestry was rich and full. Running this way was a sea change, as the faceless crowd became my intimate friends on the journey of not only 26.2 miles, but of the past 49 years.

This way of listening and running gave me the energy to pick up the pace in the tough final miles. This in spite of the unusually warm temperatures. Listening and looking for familiar names in the crowd made all the difference in the world. Suddenly the heat was not as oppressive and the final miles were not as difficult. Together with the delightful shade and gentle breeze of Central Park, this community of support was enough to carry me through in fine style to about a four-hour finish.

That is the power of connective listening. It can transform a situation, in the twinkling of an eye, from one thing into another. Things are not always as they appear! Perception is reality. And perception has much to do with how we listen and what we listen for.

How are you listening and what are you listening for? Are you making connections between past, present, and future? Whether you are listening to the rhythm of your own life or to the words of others, connective listening can generate new meaning, hope, and energy.

Studies indicate that people are happiest when they see a connection between what they are doing now, and what they were doing between the ages of five and twelve. The only way to see this connection is to listen for it. What was happening then? What is happening now? What will be happening in the future? When we listen for the thread that ties this all together, we have taken a great step forward toward having an integrated and coherent life.

Listening connectively is about listening for that thread. This starts with believing that the thread exists. From there it’s easy to listen connectively. It’s like going on a treasure hunt until we find the connections that optimize our success and fulfillment in life and work. Do you know how to listen this way? It’s within your grasp to learn.

Coaching Inquiries: Are you aware of making connections when you listen? Do people appreciate the connections you make? How could you listen more carefully for those threads that generate meaning, hope, and energy?

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.

We are tracking your run, right now, on the Internet tracker, in real time, and we see that you’ve overtaken P. Diddy. Way to go! It’s getting exciting with your estimated finish time of 3:59:38 at 20 miles. A four hour finish, give or take a few seconds or minutes, is no slouch. Keep it up!

Loved your latest email on the marathon. I hope you finished strong at NYC. I just ran my second marathon • the Marine Corps. It struck me that it’s a 26.2 mile running parade. I enjoyed every spectator and every minute of it • even the cramps. The cramps made me dig down deep, ask God for help, and stretch like crazy on Hains Point! I finished and ran up the Iwo Jima hill. Every time we passed Arlington cemetery I realized how little difference it made what my time in the marathon was but how important my honoring those who gave their lives for this country by running this marathon was. Semper Fi.

Thanks for encouraging the deep listening with God. I trust your New York marathon went well. We were praying with you as you began.

Your last Provision, Listen Deeply, was very informative and helpful. Thank you. 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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