“He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced- or seemed to face-the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hope to convey.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
I’ve had this quote in the notes on my phone ever since I first heard it in the 2013 Great Gatsby movie.Tobey Mcguire’s character, Nick, says this line right after meeting his new neighbor, Jay Gatsby. I never really thought about why I liked it so much. Is it the eloquence in which Fitzgerald wrote it? Or the alluring manure in which Tobey Mcguire thoughtfully smiled off into the distance while he recited the line? I’m not entirely sure why I was so captivated by it…but as I looked through my notes, I began to really take another look at this quote. What a way to describe someone. I can’t imagine walking away from a “small talk” conversation feeling that way…” wow, that person really concentrated on me with an irresistible prejudice in my favor!” I mean, no one speaks as eloquently as Fitz..but you get the point. When is the last time you’ve had a conversation with a person who made you feel like they believed in you as much as you believed in yourself? What an incredible impression you could make by just listening and smiling…BUT in a way that somehow meant more than just, yeah I heard what you said, cool.
We have a tendency to just blow people off, sometimes that’s even easier. On the flip side, you never know what your time, attention, and understanding could have meant to the person you blew off. I think one of the worst feelings is talking, really sharing something, and then feeling like no one was listening. Maybe someone is listening, in the sense that they hear you, but are they hearing, processing, caring, and truly understanding what you are saying? Would you walk away from the conversation thinking of that person in the same way that Fitzgerald described Gatsby above?
…were you understood as far as you wanted to be understood? I think we all crave to be understood; more than just acknowledged in between phone checks or tossed aside with a short, uninvolved response, but engaged in a way that suggests that someone actually wants to know how your day was, what you feel, what you think…and genuinely cares and understands. Showing someone you hear and understand them doesn’t require an hour long deep conversation, but instead can be revealed in how carefully and intently you listen and engage. We’ve all got a voice, thoughts, aspirations, and an undying need to share with someone who cares to listen and might just understand too.
As much as we want to be understood, perhaps we should first try to understand. Instead of wishing we could talk with someone that will devote their attention and understanding to us, with one of those rare and ensuring smiles that Fitzgerald writes of, we could try to fill those shoes ourselves.