We live in a polarized society. And, this probably isn't going to change as our human story continues. People will always have opposing viewpoints. Perspectives about right and wrong range from differing social, political, moral, and religious worldviews. What should opposing sides do about this? Agree to disagree? Fight? Isolate? Boycott?
Catholic Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt shares in her book Wake Up With Purpose! What I’ve Learned in My First Hundred Years, "One of the problems we face is that people are so emotional when it comes to _______ (fill in the blank) that they end up shouting and arguing with one another instead of listening and reasoning with one another. That results in people talking only to people who are like them and agree with them."
Some believe to disagree with their opposing side is synonymous with becoming their enemy. This belief, however, can lead to cold silence or sheer violence. Can there be a better way? I believe Sister Jean helps point us toward the right direction--to practice the power of listening.
The Power Listening
Listening is a healthy power--specifically, empathetic listening. Empathy allows us to understand a person's story and their point of view. As the old adage says, "To be in their shoes." Listening is the ability to genuinely hear what the other party has to share.
One does not need to agree with the other party's life choices and worldview, but they can enter into their world through empathetic listening. But, why would a person take this path if they believe the other person has the wrong belief system? The answer is - empathetic listening opens the door for positive social change.
The other party is more willing to hear your point of view when they truly feel you want to know theirs. Neither of you may change positions, but at least empathetic listening may foster a better opportunity for social harmony.
Two individuals who undeniably demonstrate this are Daryl Davis and Chris Voss. Daryl Davis is an African-American musician who made a difference in the darkness of racism by practicing empathetic listening. Chris Voss is a retired FBI hostage negotiator who saved the lives of Americans through this skill as well.
Daryl, facing racism during his younger years, didn't understand why the tone of his skin made some hate him. So later, as an adult, he sought to understand why. He deduced the only way to know was to hear the view of the opposing side, so he arranged a meeting with the national leader of the KKK. Davis's story is truly amazing. His attitude of empathetic listening not only helped him better understand the perspective of his opposing party, but it opened up the door toward a positive change regarding racism. I encourage you to hear his Ted Talk - Why I, as a Black Man Attend KKK Rallies.
Chris was our nation's top hostage negotiator during his tenure with the FBI. He worked to release Americans from severe life and death situations. Many of those negotiations were with Islamic extremists, whose views of spirituality and society are diametrically opposed to that of America. He had a high success rate of getting Americans free. His secret? Empathetic listening. Chris studied the culture of the terrorists, asked them questions, then affirmed their point of view. The terrorists, when they genuinely felt heard, were more open to releasing the hostages for little or none of their original demand. To truly appreciate his approach, feel free to read his book - Never Split The Difference.
Empathic Listening--It's Our Turn!
We reap what we sow. Unkindness breeds unkindness. Cold silence breeds cold silence. Violence breeds violence. Empathy, however, provides a better ethos for peace, harmony, and social change. Who can you talk to, or what source can you read, to help you cultivate an atmosphere of empathetic listening toward your opposing party? You might be surprised how this can bring change in you--and possibly in others.
Zach Lucas is a Licensed Professional Counselor for the State of Oregon.
He also teaches dual credit high school Psychology classes in the Portland area.
Feel free to contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The information provided is for self-exploration only and not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any condition or disease. Always consult with a licensed professional who specializes in the area you are seeking to understand and treat.