At the beginning of this year, I made a very specific new year’s resolution to begin listening to understand, instead of replying. This may seem trivial to many of you but for most of my life, I believed that my power lay in my response. This was until I learnt the subtle art of listening in silence, listening to truly and deeply hear what the next person was saying and listening to understand others’ unique worldviews. When I set this resolution, I also realized how so many of us struggle with the very same thing. Many times, we find ourselves listening to somebody, but eagerly waiting for them to finish their sentence because we’ve already formulated in our minds what our response is going to be. The art of listening and holding space for understanding presented itself so vividly in my life over the past few days. I recently shared a part of my story growing up in Israel with my online community. It was sincere and well-intentioned. I expressed my truth of why I believe it’s so important to teach our children to help around the house and become a part of the experience, when they go to Israel for Yeshiva or Seminary and experience Shabbat and the holidays with Israeli families. I grew up with thousands of guests entering my home each and every month and although I look back and cherish some fun and very exciting memories, I also believe that some very frustrating and hurtful moments could have easily been avoided, if children were more active and participatory in the day-to-day activities of helping around the house.
Sharing this with my community was met with many mixed reviews. Some women agreed with me, while others didn’t. I don’t really have a problem with people owning a different opinion to mine, unless it feels hurtful and like a personal attack on my character, but this all got me thinking about how open we are to actually sharing our truths out loud, with the overpowering and accompanying fear that others won’t truly understand our positions. More often than not, we choose to silence our voices because we believe differently, see things differently or simply just disagree with others. Other times, we share very sincere and honest opinions. Difference of opinion can even enable a more expansive conversation to occur between two people, allowing them both to learn from each other and open each other’s hearts to the basic human quality of uniqueness and individual expression and opinion and in this way, it can be enriching and beautiful. But I have also found that difference of opinion can cause rifts between friends and communities. Differences in opinion are often interpreted as ‘disagreements’ and this signals ‘threatening’ to our nervous systems.
As human beings, we all have the basic need to belong. We seek to fit in and to feel like we matter and it lights our insides up to know that there are others out there like us too – with our weird quirks, beliefs and ways of thinking. In a strange way, it makes this world seem just a little bit smaller, more manageable and a lot more comforting to bear. But if we take a look at politics and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, one thing is always clear: those who differ from each other are often seen as the enemy.
Pema Chodron said beautifully, that ‘compassion is knowing your own darkness well enough so that you can sit in darkness with others.’ I believe that sharing our truths should be met with more compassion, understanding and a desire to listen, instead of refuting, disengaging from or viewing others as ‘different from us.’ When we share our truths, it should land on the soft cushioning of compassion because when we hide ourselves and our truth, self-betrayal festers deep within. Glennon Doyle said that ‘self-betrayal is allowing the fear voices to drown out the still, small voice that knows what to do and is always leading us home to ourselves and to truth and to love.’
When we make space for another’s opinion, we also lessen the spaces for shame to blossom. Sharing can be scary. It takes great courage to stand up and say ‘No,’ ‘I disagree,’ or ‘Actually, that’s not true for me.’ It takes great courage to live a life which makes sense to YOU and it takes great leaps of faith to look at those who disagree with the way we live our lives and say ‘Hmm, I wonder what made her do that?’ or ‘What do you mean when you say X?’ Or ‘I’d like to better understand where you’re coming from much better. Will you please help me understand this more?’
Each and every one of these messages convey one important thing to the next person: I care enough to listen to your difference. Difference will not separate us. Instead, it will bring us closer together. Listening to understand is a crucial social skill which helps build relationships, diffuse difference and create connections in spaces where shame would otherwise fester.
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