Changing the World - Listening a Few Spare Minutes at a Time
“Hello?” “Is anybody out there?” “I have something I really need to share.” “Hear me!” “See me!” “No one understands me.” “I am alone.”
Too often these are the underlying messages of social media posts.
These posts are more than just disturbing to Dr. Robyn Odegaard (“Doc Robyn”) – and she is using a combination of her spare time and social media to make a difference – as well as inviting anyone with a caring heart to join her.
“When I hear of these posts in the media, they haunt me,” said Doc Robyn. “We have become so absorbed by technology that human empathy, seeing each other as unique and valuable beings, has been lost. What if we could reach out to a willing stranger and say ‘I need to talk?’”
Doc Robyn knows the heartbreak of losing a friend to suicide and having to deal with the feelings of raw emotion alone. She has also had times of great joy when all she wanted was someone to be nonjudgmental and authentically excited with her. “If someone really needs to share something, good, bad, happy, sad, frustrating or whatever I don’t want him or her to walk by me thinking there are no compassionate human beings in the world. But I also can’t go around randomly asking strangers ‘Hey, do you need to talk today?’” she added with a laugh.
As she pondered how she, one person, could make a difference, to somehow let others know she was open to listening, free of charge and without ridicule, Doc Robyn came up an idea. She took a piece of cardboard and wrote on it, “Happy2Listen.” Then she headed out to open public places, like business plazas, parks and even playgrounds. Now she goes out with her sign whenever she has the opportunity.
“I spend a lot of time in public places, between meetings, waiting for flights or just on my lunch break. Being able to use that time to be there for someone is really rewarding.” She smiles adding, “I have gotten to share some deeply personal connections with strangers just by listening to their stories. I’ve heard about heartbreak, marriage proposal plans, sickness, pregnancy, gambling problems, life stresses about children, marriage, work and family and even someone who had all of his retirement savings stolen.” Doc Robyn never knows what’s on someone’s mind when they first approach her but she’s always ready to look them in the eye and really see them as she listens. “It’s my way to give back, to make a positive difference for people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to talk to someone.” It even has its own hashtag on social media: #Happy2Listen.
While something of a curiosity at first, Doc Robyn is often asked by those who see her sitting with her sign if she is doing a social experiment or performance art of some kind. She uses those openings to start a conversation, explaining what she’s doing and why it matters. She has often been told how helpful she is and that the world needs more people like her; she then invites people to make their own sign and join her.
“I’m inviting anyone who can be nonjudgmental and empathetic to join in. It’s super easy; make a sign, sit in a safe, public place and listen. The hardest part is getting over worrying what people will think.” Doc Robyn understands that it takes a certain personality to be willing to be Happy2Listen to strangers. So she set up a GoFundMe page to allow people who can’t do it to donate to the cause. “Funding will allow me to spend more time being Happy2Listen, organizing volunteers and responding to the emails. If lots of people are doing it someone will be in the right place at the right time to make a huge difference in someone’s life, just by being #Happy2Listen.”
THANK YOU for being a part of putting the human back into the human race!
Visit www.Happy2Listen.com for pictures and more of my story.
About Dr. Robyn Odegaard
Doc Robyn is the CEO of Champion Performance Development and a well respected speaker and trainer; offering workshops and working with companies along the DC – NYC corridor. She is the author of two books: The Ultimate Guide to Handling Every Disagreement Every Time and Stop The Drama! The Ultimate Guide to Female Teams. Even prior to going to college for her degrees in psychology friends and acquaintances would share their deepest secrets with her and ask for advice. She has turned that ability into a thriving business and is now going back to her roots to listen to anyone who needs to talk. For more on Doc Robyn’s business: www.DrRobynOdegaard.com. For more back story on the #Happy2Listen movement: www.Happy2Listen.com
The fourth person to sit down said, “What are you listening to?” I replied, “Anything anyone needs to talk about, as long as they are nice to me.” He said, “I have a few topics I’d like to touch on.” We spent 45 or so minutes talking about his experience as a black male in America, the fear he carries everyday for his sons, how he feels police are not given the right training, wondering about the self selection that goes into someone choosing to be a police officer and how difficult it must be to be a black officer right now.
It was an intense conversation.
Just as we were finishing and I was putting away my #Happy2Listen sign a very attractive black woman in her late 30’s (I’m guessing) walked up and ask him “What is this?” He explained to her what #Happy2Listen is and then added “But don’t take up too much of her time. She was just leaving.” I told her not to worry about the time and invited her to sit down.
She told me that she had just driven up from Baltimore to spend the weekend with her daughter but that her daughter, knowing that she was coming, had made plans in Philly. She wasn’t angry but she was very hurt. She shared how she wanted to get a room on the beach but was afraid to be alone there. She talked about how she was raped by three family members on the beach as a young girl. She shared that she struggled with anorexia. She talked about how her mother, who didn’t raise her, was now asking her for money and telling her what a selfish daughter she is.
I will most likely never see any of those people again. But I am intently grateful that they were willing to share their time and their stories with me. I never know who will stop or what they will talk about but I always know they will be an amazing human being.
#Happy2Listen – putting the human back in the human race.
I'm the guy who spoke to you at the Delaware rest stop, asking about Happy2Listen. I wanted to let you know that I've made my sign and as soon as the weather warms up will be in various parks around lower Manhattan. I usually walk all over downtown on my lunch hour, so now periodically I will find a park to sit in with my sign and see what happens.
I will definitely send you a picture . Thanks for the encouragement. I think I am really going to like this!
I hope he does.
This video gives a glimpse into what we miss when we are always on our devices. Being #Happy2Listen has allowed me to connect with life in a deeper way than I have in a long time.
Yesterday I watched a TED talk about a study that has spanned the last 75 years. They have learned that being lonely leads to physical ailments and even a shorter lifespan. The researcher provided the statistic above.
Think about that - 1 in 5 people you know and see walking down the street is lonely. You have the power to change that just by being #Happy2Listen.