This is a guest post by James Martin, SJ.
I read recently a quote from—I can’t remember exactly who!—a Jesuit who said that you don’t have to have advanced degrees to help someone. In other words, in order to be a good friend, you don’t have to be a psychotherapist or trained counselor. (As Jerry Seinfeld said, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!” Many of my friends, and I, have benefited greatly from seeing counselors, and they are the ones to turn to with serious emotional problems.)
But that doesn’t mean you can’t be a good listener. And that’s part of being a “person for others.”
Almost 20 years ago, in the Jesuit novitiate, we were told that one of the hallmarks of a good friend is that he or she really listens. That’s hard to do these days. Too often we’re intent on thinking about what we will say in response or should say in response that we don’t really listen. We’re more focused on ourselves than on the other. But for a person in crisis, or a person who is embarrassed by something that he or she is going through, simply listening can be great gift—it helps a person feel less alone in crisis, and more respected if he or she is embarrassed about a particular situation.