On Listening As A Practice in The Brave New World

(Man standing with sign in front of a Mosque in Texas.)

So much recently about “listening,” especially related to something called “bubbles.”

A few thoughts from my Buddhist practice (you can also check out Chapter 6 of The Road Home if you want more in-depth ideas):
 

1) Listening is always a great practice, but it can *only* be done with another person who also wants to listen to you in return.
 
2) Listening is a shared practice based on good intentions on both sides. You are not required to listen to anyone in the current moment, especially if it becomes clear that they are not speaking with good intentions, or are not willing to listen in return, or are deliberately presenting misinformation.
 
3) You get to decide who you want to practice with. You could try to listen to everyone (eventually), but it’s probably asking too much to start with people who you think have caused tremendous harm, or those you feel are strongly biased by racism or misogyny. It might be better to start with someone easier, someone with whom you have already established trust. If listening to someone triggers you into anger or fear too easily, then back off. 
 
4) Set good parameters. If you decide to have a listening session with someone you’re having a hard time with. be unafraid to speak your mind to them as well, when it is your turn. It’s always kind to let the other person go first. 
 
4B) Avoid writing online comments back and forth if you want good parameters for listening to someone you disagree with. It’s just not a good format for the practice.
 
5) Finally, most importantly, listening never requires agreeing with someone.
 
To the last point, I have tried very hard to listen to the people I know who voted for this political outcome. A few times, the above conditions have actually arisen. In these cases, I have gotten to the point where I hear their suffering. I do feel their wisdom as fully as I can. However, when it comes to why they made the choice they made in *response* to their suffering, I have not heard anything I could agree with or even understand from a reasonable perspective.It is ok to listen fully, and then disagree fully, and then take strong steps to act based on what you think is true. Disagreement—not agreement—is often the best outcome of listening well to another person. Sometimes the best result of listening well is in seeing exactly how to disempower a harmful perspective. For this reason, I have personally made much more of an effort to listen to those who do not support this new government, those who want to organize and share strength to try to help our country and world become a more compassionate place. It is the work I want to emphasize right now. To focus elsewhere feels lacking in both skillfulness and compassion.
If you treat listening as a practice, you will never go wrong. But you get to choose who it makes sense to practice with, and you don’t need to feel shame if someone aggressively tries to convince you that they are right, or conflates hearing with agreeing. Listening and agreeing have nothing to do with each other, especially not now in America.
May all be safe,
Ethan

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