How a Crisis Line Taught One Volunteer How to Listen

Content warning: Discussion of suicide.

For all the time we spend listening in our lives, we don’t tend to be particularly good at it. We’ve devoted whole articles to the skill of listening, and they barely scratch the surface.

That’s why this TEDXCalStateLA talk is so valuable. Dylan Gunaratne is a student, a volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and a crisis line counselor. As he explains, none of those things make him a perfect listener — and that can be a scary thing when you’re dealing with life and death crises.

By opening up about his own failures as a listener, Gunaratne invites viewers to consider how we can do better in our own lives. How we can stop putting our own assumptions in people’s mouths, how we can stop filling in the blanks for ourselves instead of asking important questions, and how we can be present for someone else.

Empathy and understanding are so important when trying to help someone in a crisis — but all the empathy in the world can’t help if we don’t listen to the other person’s experience.