“Listen carefully, my daughter, my son, to my instructions and attend to
them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from one who loves you; welcome
it and faithfully put it into practice.” —Prologue, The Rule of St. Benedict
The first word of The Rule of St. Benedict isn’t pray, worship, or even love.
Compassionate listening: Richard Rohr contrasts the rather aggressive 'I
disagree with you', with a more reflective, “Richard, did I understand what you
were saying?” and repeat back to me their perception of what I said. Normally
then I can clarify, or perhaps admit that I have communicated poorly or am, in
fact, incorrect. When we can listen and respond in that way, each person is
treated with the respect and dignity they deserve as children of God. Each
person feels heard, and misunderstandings are clarified compassionately. If we
are incapable of hearing others, we will also be incapable of hearing God. If
we spend all day controlling and blocking others, why would we change when we
kneel to pray?
your body, heart, mind, and notice where you are. Let go of things done, and
things yet to do. Watch as thoughts come and go - imagine them as a leaf or
feather, settling, or floating away.
Courageous listening: today
we rarely meet with, let alone converse with, those with whom we disagree. Yet
as we confront the polarisations in society, do we not need to be able to do
this? Sikh activist Valarie Kaur has made a commitment to listen to those with
whom she disagrees. Here she describes some of the practices that make it
It turns out it is extremely difficult to draw close to someone you find
absolutely abhorrent. How do we listen to someone when their beliefs are
disgusting? Or enraging? Or terrifying? . . . An invisible wall forms between
us and them, a chasm that seems impossible to cross. We don’t even know why we
should try to cross it. . . . In these moments, we can choose to remember that
the goal of listening is not to feel empathy for our opponents, or validate
their ideas, or even change their mind in the moment.
Our goal is to understand them. . . .when listening gets hard, I focus on
taking the next breath. I pay attention to sensations in my body: heat,
clenching, and constriction. I feel the ground beneath my feet. Am I safe?
If so, I stay and slow my breath again, quiet my mind, and release the pressure
that pushes me to defend my position. I try to wonder about this person’s story
and the possible wound in them. I think of an earnest question and try to stay
curious long enough to be changed by what I hear.
Maybe, just maybe, my opponent will begin to wonder about me in return, ask me
questions, and listen to my story. Maybe their views will start to break apart
and new horizons will open in the process. . . . Then again, maybe not. It
doesn’t matter as long as the primary goal of listening is to deepen my own
understanding. Listening does not grant the other side legitimacy. It grants
them humanity—and preserves our own