The Sounding Board – An Instruction on Confidences


A wise man once told me, “If it’s not something you wouldn’t mind telling an audience on national television, just keep it to yourself.” And it is this thought that has always been in the back of my mind, guiding the confidences I keep or as is nearly always the case, choose not to. For good friends, even the best of friends are not absolute in their characters. No matter the confidences you may find that you have in them, there is one insurmountable truth you must face. This truth, like most real truths is easily proven a reality with but a few simple moments of thought ,and perhaps a few pangs of nostalgia from your past. But to reveal this truth, I would like to relate to you the context in which I give it.

All my life, I have been a confidant of consciences and a keeper of secrets for a vast multitude of people. I do not consider in this collection, as it is indeed to me a collection, my friends and family and other individuals which naturally may confide in me. I speak of near strangers, acquaintances and those I occasionally may encounter during the many and varied happenstance occasions in my life. These people who come to me, oft with no real purpose at first find themselves desiring for further discourse and private interactions after a very short period of time. Quite often, within a week and sometimes a few days. Both genders, all races and every walk of life have all seen fit to ask of me the boon of listening. And I, ever the interested individual must admit that I relish the experience.

You see, from my earliest of days I have always been the friendly ear, the accommodating air and the soft shoulder upon which friend and sometimes, even foe have sought council from. In my youth and of the few among many whom I have asked the question, “Why me?” to, the answer is always the same. “I don’t know.” Which after a short pause is always followed by some sheepish attempt at describing how they feel, and why they feel it. As if a justification is required when, at least for me, it is not. After so many years, I have come to understand better than most of them ever will. And I’ve simply stopped bothering to ask, “Why me?”. It’s not really the important question anyway.

But the phrase that wise, wise man, now lost to the grave and residing only in my memories, offered to me has always kept me from becoming like those who feel the need to “confess”, to seek validation, to simply get things off their chest. I certainly don’t fault them. I know the human condition. I realize how people are and what some people, most people it would seem, need. Sometimes it is a small, quite inconsequential life matter of the day and they simply need to unload. It’s nothing they would want others to hear them say, but then… that’s what I’m there for. Say what you like, for whatever reason and in whatever words with whatever tone, about whomever has your caught your ire and I’ll listen. Intently, stoically and with all the care you wish to be afforded. Which varies from person to person.

Then there are times when it is not so small, not quite so inconsequential. Infidelity, acts of thievery, abuse of ones friend or spouse, retribution against an enemy gone wrong, a couple of hit and runs, and more than a few others that are much, much worse. But I am no defense attorney, criminal psychologist or grief counselor. I have listened to grisly accounts of rape, molestation, assault, torture and barely believable life stories which put my ability to not raise my eyebrows in alarm to the test. People of every walk of life, from forklift driver at your local Goodwill to directors of finance for billion dollar corporations, they all want the same thing. To simply be heard. Which, to do correctly is not really very simple at all.

Which brings us back to the aforementioned truth. That reality which should be faced. A truth I have not asserted until recently, when I have finally chosen to be more selective with my time, energy and graces concerning those who wish to divulge their woes and troubles upon me. Though even with a carefully worded mote of caution, it has not seemed to truly discourage those whose courses are set. But I’ll say the respect and admiration from those who confide in me has become more pronounced. Or I may just be getting better at what I do.

Today, should you be one among those who seeks me out or ends up being in a position I guide you too for the same purpose, you will most likely ask for my attention in the form of, “Hey, can I mull something over with you?” or “Got a second, I needed to run something by someone?” and “I could use your help, I’ve got an issue…” Which while sounding quite innocuous, always turns into something much more personal and to you, potentially damning. Over coffee or a drink (or in one case an entire vegan chocolate silk pie), not always that same day but within a week or so you will tell me whatever you felt the need to tell and I’ll listen and has for the majority been the case, give asked for advice. Objectively removed in observance and third-side in pragmatic styling, as is my want.

I had thought to present a dialogue as an example of how a session might go, but ultimately decided against it. Every single scenario has been different in some way, even when the story is close in topic or design than any other that I have had and to portray the various branches, digressions and random factors would simply be a choose your own adventure book of epic proportions. But as I have a track record for performing my self-assigned role with such success, I believe I can present the specifics appropriately.

You see, everyone is unique, and special, and different. Argue that nugget all you like from the point that people are generally conformists and sheeple and part of the mass circuit of blind followers… but what is quite often left out is the definition of terms. Special, unique and different does not immediately attach a value to something. There are plenty of novel, one of a kind creations that die or are destroyed on a day to day basis that no one gives a moment of thought for and attach more than a passing glance of worth to. Every insect with a twenty-four hour life span, simple meals created in any venue, scribbles on a piece of paper, even the shit you took an hour ago was unique its own way from any you’ve ever taken. But does that mean because it is different and unique that it has any particular value above another of it’s kind? Of course not. Point in case, uniqueness does not necessarily denote worth. And so it must be said of people. This is paramount in relating to others from a constructively assuming format.

But in line with the above, one of the devices is to care, most certainly please do… but not enough that your reserve is thrown, your advice if asked becomes tainted with one-sided judgment. Why care you ask? Shouldn’t you be objective? That’s what you said before I hear?

And you would be right, I did refer to having an objective stance in your observance of the situation. To be a true listener, and sounding board reflection of what others are telling you the viewpoint you present must not be stained with the blood from your heart. For this is precisely the reason people come to me. Because for all the judgments I hold and the opinions I have, not ejaculating these things all over the person in the typically messy and unwanted fashion as most people quite often do, is why I feel it is easy to talk with me. What I think and feel, doesn’t matter. At least not in the context of this personal exchange.

I would be a poor listener indeed if I simply sat down so I could have something to muse on and quickly retort back with whatever thought, whether comforting or of derision, came into my head. You must let go of your own biases and simply accept what they are trying to relate, in whatever fashion that they are able to. But as I stated at the beginning, one thing you should always confer for their consideration is the fact that, if it is not something they would wish to explain upon national television, they might be better in just keeping it to themselves. This is not to discredit yourself, or sew mistrust with someone who has by all accounts chosen to trust you, but to allow them to think upon how dire their need is.

And thus comes the second part of the statement I provide. I know that I will not divulge whatever happens to be said to me to another person, for reasons and scruples of my own. Of this I take great pride in. But herein lies the lie that is trust. You must explain to them that, while they may trust you and that you will not retell what they confide in you to any other… they may not hold that same confidence in another. For trust is a double edged sword. We all have those we trust and confide in, and if they tell their secret to another, and that person trusts another with that secret… and THAT person tells another that secret, it will eventually get around to someone whom you do not trust, or worse does not like you. Thus, that chain of trust becomes weaker and rustier the further along it links. And we all know how fast good gossip travels. And this is something they should consider each and every time they tell someone something. Most importantly, they must consider whether they trust you enough to feel that you are a link unto yourself, in no need of finding others to make a chain with.

By coming equipped with the mindset that, while not necessarily valuable, everyone is special and unique; that you care enough to listen (if only to gratify your own interest and curiosity) and that for the purposes of the exchange your personal judgments are not required… you can be the confidant and keeper of conscious that you truly are.

I have heard altogether too many tales of how a best friend, lover, spouse or cherished family member just could not keep their own opinions and judgments out of the topic. Most people with an issue, whatever is happens to be already have an idea of how the world, society or the issue in question can and would respond if apprised of the situation. A response (if asked) that would simply mirror this is not the way to go about assisting those who ask you for aid. You must endeavor to bring your tools to bear and construct the oculus by which they can see things from a different perspective. An often, third side perspective.

Few people are cultured with the idea that things are not simply black and white. Shades of grey and variables are not a static part of the way most people are raised or grow through life. It is the classic, all or nothing, good and evil, right and wrong approach which people believe in. And it is your ability to find the other option that distinguishes you between those who give a pat on the back or a stern lecture. Rather, IF asked, you can discern an alternative that may present a better option, or avenue of approach in resolving their issue for the benefit of all involved, or at the very least themselves. Sometimes, someone has to lose.

If you find yourself resonating with my explanation and experiences, having been a sounding board yourself and not quite feeling like you were doing yourself or the other party justice in your role… perhaps this will aid you in your interests. But if you find yourself simply wishing to be one of us, a good listener for reasons akin to being a nice person or everyone’s buddy, I would sincerely warn you away from this line of social interaction. Not everyone can, or should be someone that others confide in. It is up to you to recognize why and if you are what others desire in a confidant. Because in keeping secrets and confidences, the burden is placed upon you to keep them. If you’re not able to, for whatever reason maintain a stoic conviction of silence, the consequences can be most severe. And in the case of you breaking your word, they would be most deserved in whatever form they happen to take.

I hope this essay has been most instructive for those of like-mind, and for the rest… you have been warned.

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