Most people are familiar with the line that we have two ears but only one mouth because we ought to be listening twice as much as we speak.
Well, you might wonder how that applies in my job, as the popular image of a civil celebrant is that person standing up at the front, conducting the ceremony – be it a wedding, funeral, handfasting, blessing, naming or whatever – and jabbering away. In other words, I do the speaking and you (have to) do the listening!
However, there is another part of the proceedings that you probably wouldn’t think about, and that is when the ears/mouth equation comes into its own for me. That is during my planning meeting with the client.
After the initial contact, I almost always visit the next-of-kin, if it’s a funeral, or, if it’s a celebration, arrange a face-to-face or Skype meeting with the couple. As well as being an opportunity to see if we’re both OK to work together, this is a chance for the client to ask questions in an unintimidating atmosphere. For me, it is also an opportunity to ask questions and also to suggest ideas. (Yes, that does involve more talking!)
However, in reality, most of this conversation for me will be spent listening (although there is the occasional case – usually caused by shock after a death – when the client will say next to nothing, and I have to work at gaining their trust). I need to pay close attention, as I often have to pick up clues about what the client wants, as they may not really have much of a conscious idea themselves.
If the client does know exactly what they are looking for, my role is to take note so I can mould it in the best possible, most effective, way. I may question an element or two (“do you realise that …?”), but it’s not my job to change anything (provided everything’s legal, etc.).
I respect their wishes – they can have a mixture of religious elements (or none, if they choose) – and I try to accommodate any preferences they may have for readings, music and participants.
If they don’t know what they want, then I ask questions to get a sense for the sort of thing they may like and provide suggestions for possible rituals to fit the bill. When I finish, I try and put this all together to construct a meaningful and memorable ceremony that meets the needs – and beliefs – of the client. So maybe I do still sometimes talk a bit more than I listen, but I hope I’m getting the balance right.
Another way I’d love to put “two ears, one mouth” into practice is to respond to any requests you may have for subjects for me to deal with in my blogs. To quote my hero, Frasier Crane, “I’m listening!”