Listening can be an action you take in service of wondering. I appreciate the reminder from Kaur that you don’t have to feel empathy or compassion to listen, you just have to choose to wonder. Kaur says, “I do not owe my opponents my affection, warmth, or regard. But I do owe myself a chance to live in this world without the burden of hate.” I assume what she is suggesting is that when we hear other people, when we understand their humanity better, it is harder for us to hate them.
“Deep listening is an act of surrender. We risk being changed by what we hear.” I wonder if this is why we are so resistant to listening – we are resistant to change. Listening requires us to be vulnerable instead of defensive – which means listening requires us to feel safe. I appreciate the reminder that there may be times when we don’t feel safe enough to engage in a conversation and that’s ok.
“The most critical part of listening is asking what is at stake for the other person. I try to understand what matters to them.” I don’t know if I agree with this statement. I think understanding what is at stake is important and can be transformative to me as a listener, but I also think it can be calculated. Now that I know what is at stake for you – I can try to take actions to move you towards doing what I want you to do (kind of like marketing with higher stakes).
I love these practical suggestions offered by Kaur:
When listening is difficult, slow down. Focus on the next breath, the sensations in your body, the ground beneath your feet. Ask yourself if you are safe. If so, release the expectation to defend yourself or your beliefs, and aim to wonder about the person you are listening to.
Consider asking a genuine question. Remember that the goal of listening is not about granting legitimacy to someone else’s beliefs. The goal is to understand another person, and to preserve their humanity as well as our own.
If you are able and ready to listen, you can start small. You do not need to choose your most challenging opponents to listen to. You can start by practicing wonder, building small bridges of understanding with the people closest to you, and strengthening your listening skills like a muscle, one conversation at a time.