Over and Over Again

at 10:43 PM
Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Confronted with a heard-it-all-before story, Richard Swerdlow decides to suppress the yawn and find something he hadn’t heard before.

People repeat themselves. People repeat themselves.

Everyone knows somebody who's been telling the same story over and over for years. It's hard not to suppress a sigh when the conversation turns towards familiar territory and you just know that well-worn story is about to be dusted off again for the hundredth time. By now, you've heard it so many times, you could tell it yourself.

In fact, some people do, impatiently interrupting the speaker with a spoiler ending, pointing out they've already heard this. But finding myself in this situation recently, I decided to not interrupt, or smile, nod and mmmm-hmmmm while I let my mind wonder, but to actually listen.

I wish I could report the twice-told tale provided some sudden, unexpected flash of insight this time. But no, the telling remained the same. The listening, however, had changed. I realized this story, however trivial to me, was important to this person.


The happiness on her face as she told me this story - again - was so much more valuable than those five minutes I could have spent doing something else. Listening to her, I realized something. We are all our own collection of stories. Our stories are more than just stories - they are our very identity, narrating the minutes and hours of our lives. Our stories on repeat reveal deep truths - what we hope for, what we fear, what we value, how much we trust you to share this with you.

So, annoying as it is to hear the same story again, I've decided to give the people in my life the gift of listening with undivided attention. The story may be stale, but it's a fresh opportunity to make someone feel understood, to feel connected, to feel important. Because, in life, all of our stories have the same ending. One day, each of us will disappear forever, and only our stories will be left.

So humor Aunt Eleanor - or even your husband, wife or partner - and let 'em tell that same old story again. And really listen. Even if you’ve heard it all before.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow is a teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District.