One Way to Heal Division
In a world broken by political divides, by cultural and racial tensions and by violence, it can be overwhelming just to engage with someone who holds opinions different than our own. We wrestle with daily interactions. We may find ourselves befuddled by those we struggle to relate to. Relationships and conversations can confound us.
On a long drive recently, I listened to a radio show about how to persuade others about political issues. The hosts were certain of their own political views so one underlying premise was that the opposing point of view was incomplete or in error. The hour was full of good suggestions for letting the other person speak and ways to explain your own views without being threatening. The hosts were even practical enough to suggest that the other person might not listen or be persuadable. But the question that went through my mind throughout the hour was why. Why should we persuade others to agree with us? Do we always need to win arguments or be right? Is it so bad to have differing opinions? I don’t think so. The world would boring if we all agreed on everything.
What can be problematic is what we do with our political opinions (or spiritual, or professional, or social, or ethnic opinions for that matter) and how we treat those with whom we disagree. Certainly, it is essential to vote and it is fine to advocate for one point of view over another. But if I think the other person is there just to be persuaded, I’m missing something. Instead of persuading the other, I can choose to listen – to listen with compassion, to listen without judgment.
While someone is speaking, I may find myself forming opinions or devising how I will make my argument. Imagine how things might be different if I just listened? What if I could just listen with love and compassion in my heart? Imagine how things would be different if I could let go of my need to be heard and actually tuned into the other person. There’s no doubt that I would hear things I hadn’t heard before.
Listening is powerful. If someone knows another person is really listening the conversation changes. The speaker doesn’t need to desperately guard her or his opinion. The speaker has no need to line up convincing counter arguments. The conversation has room for reflection and deeper understanding. Indeed, the strident tone of our political discourse might be eased if we could listen with the desire to understand the other rather than to change or judge them.
The Prayer of St. Francis says, “Grant that we may not so much seek to be understood as to understand.” If we wish to live by this rule, perhaps we could begin by simply listening, with compassion and without judgment. As much as we need to be heard, we need to listen more and speak less.
So if anyone wants to talk, come on by. I’ll be glad to listen with all my heart.
Catherine Tran is an Episcopal priest serving Grace Church in Buena Vista, CO. She also has a practice in spiritual direction. Catherine is the primary author of Spiritual Discovery: a Method for Discernment in Small Groups and Congregations (Alban, 2015). She can be reached at spiritualdiscoverymethod.com. This blog post is also published in the on-line pages of Chaffee County Times in Buena Vista, CO.