The topic for our up & coming retreat for Listening Post volunteers is: Difficult Conversations. The first time I recall the LP formally working with this subject was back in the fall of 2016. It was election season and our country was divided, debates more than heated, and FaceBook discussions such a turn off that many people turned off FaceBook.
During that time, Marcia shared with us a blog post from Benjamin Mathes’ Urban Confessional. The post shares an experience of his intentional listening at the national convention of the party other than his own. Mathes shares insights from the experience: We must work to hear the person not just the opinion; and the open-hearted question, “Will you tell me your story? I’d love to know how you came to this point of view.”
Being listeners, I trust you can already feel the shift these insights allow. Instead of defending our own side – whatever side that may be – this orientation invites both listener and guest into something beyond opinion or ideology. It is a lived expression of our mantra, “one human being listening to another human being.”
Even still, having these insights in our listener’s toolbox does not ensure perfect listening. We never know in advance what we will be listening to. Nor do we know in advance what situations we might find ourselves in.
Last night I gathered with a group of folks. Good people, good food, and good conversation was my expectation for the evening. Yet before the end of the night I found myself internally pedaling backwards stiffened with the resolve: these are not my people!
I felt like an outsider. I was offered food – but refused to eat it. I just would not participate. I did not utter a word.
This morning my husband said he saw it all play out, “When they started talking about _____, you tipped over.” I heard the conversation, but I did not listen. I was tweaked and put off and guarded (the alternate title for this letter could be: Confessions of a Failed Listener).
My husband was silent last night, too, and I had assumed he agreed with the consensus which I had found so distasteful. My assumption only enhanced my feeling of not belonging. This morning when we talked I was surprised as I listened to his perspective. Turns out his view was different from the consensus of the group and different from my own view. And where I fell short last night, listening to my husband today left me feeling a sense of belonging regardless of what my, or another’s, opinion might be.
If I want to hear something other than the flapping of my own wings, I might have to perch on the branch with the rest of the flock.
I do not know, in advance, what will come out of our Half Day Retreat on the subject of Difficult Conversations. I do, though, trust that our community of listeners learns in two directions: after the fact, like my learning this morning; and in a practice setting where we examine the challenges to being present as listeners, like in our retreats. And I trust that when we come together there is a sense of belonging that is not dependent on everyone agreeing but is an outflow of shared presence and curious awareness.