The listener and the speaker are faced with the exact same question: “How much do I want to be really seen and known as I truly am?” The speaker is just telling their story, but the listener becomes just as visibly known by how well they listen, accept, and respect the story of another without comment, interpretation or expansion
Listening — not just hearing — real listening is an act of love. When I am speaking, and an individual or group of people is listening to me with their full attention, not interrupting, and making eye contact with me, I can feel the acceptance. I can feel the love, and can trust that I am OK just the way I am. It’s very difficult to perpetuate my distrust of others when I am constantly exposed to this kind of listening, and yet I have found myself threatened by it.
Some of us grew up with so many conditions laid upon us that we do not know how to respond to a lack of conditions. We may feel disoriented and lost. We truly are lost. We have lost our true selves. In spite of our desperately wanting to no longer live in the hell of solitary confinement, when the jail cell opens we duck for cover. We stop telling the truth about ourselves. We want to be loved unconditionally, to be trusted. We want to be truly safe, to be OK with not having the answers, and when this precious jewel of mutual trust and respect begins to appear, we are often too frightened to tell ourselves what it is we really need to hear.
Therefore, it is important as listener to allow speakers the time and space to find themselves in their speaking, to not help them out of their cocoon, to let them develop their own conclusions, lessons and meanings to their own life story. We cannot force someone else to be honest or to say more than they want to say. We cannot make them accept our analysis and interpretation of their situation. We cannot solve their problems or reveal what they should do next in their life.
As listener, we need to “just drive the car that we are in,” and not someone else’s. Our analyzing another person could be a way of avoiding being seen, of hiding, of keeping the focus away from what we fear, the emptiness within us that seems so real (it isn’t).
This kind of listening is done with humility. Humility is the awareness that regardless of what role or title we have borne in human society, we are but a speck of sand on the beach of the Universe. We are equal to all the other grains of sand, yet still have a unique role in the unfolding of the Universe.
When we respect another’s privacy, their sense of living within their own skin, their boundaries and limits that protect them from being used, controlled or invaded by another person, that respect develops trust between us. That trust encourages openness. Deep within a person who speaks openly we begin to see our essential selves, and we hear the echo of our own story within their story.
Listening to others is a form of service to them. As we develop skill in that service, we begin to also develop the ability to listen to our own deepest internal self-talk. We develop a compassionate witness, a self-empathy and self-respect. We see the similarity between the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we are hearing. The irony of our mutual foolishness begins to emerge in bursts of laughter and sometimes in bursts of shared tears. Eventually, as shared insights become the things that we treasure, we discover something unexpected and unpredictable will arise, especially if more than two people are present. In small groups that are gathered in circles expressing the equality of all those present, a wisdom beyond the capacity of any one person will bubble to the surface, literally pop out of someone’s mouth without any forethought. This has been known in indigenous cultures since the dawn of humanity and lost in the industrialized culture. When given the space to be there, a collective wisdom, a creative solution to a vexing problem, appears spontaneously out of seemingly nowhere.
an excerpt from “Love Always Wins: Hope for Healing the Epidemic of Violence” by David Hazen, now available at lovealwayswins.us
About the Author:
David’s childhood began in 1943. It was affected by physical and emotional abuse and the terror of potential nuclear war. In the late 1960’s he marched on the Pentagon and filed for conscientious objector status. In 2004 David campaigned for Dennis Kucinich’s bid for the Presidency, became the Oregon Coordinator of the campaign for a US Department of Peace and later served on the board of The Peace Alliance. He now devotes his time to advocating for Eugene citizens to identify themselves as a City of Peace and tinkering with his electric cycle-car.
Photo via: http://www.blancavergara.com/stop-listening-to-the-experts/ (No copyright infringement intended.)