Pia has written an eloquent and important piece on the inportance of listening.
There is a saying: All politics are personal and local.
We focus on the world, on issues, and on others, based on our own concerns and experiences. We frame the opinions of others based on our own ideas and thoughts. Our perception of the world is the only as valid as our own experience.
I know what I perceive as the color “red”. You know what you perceive as the color “red”. We might both refer to the same thing as “red”, but in reality I have no idea if you experience ”red” the same way I do. That is just the truth of the human experience. We are, for better or worse, trapped in our own heads.
There has been an on-going ‘dialogue’ the last several weeks regarding the nature of advocacy and the disability community.
di·a·logue: a conversation between two or more persons; an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue…. with a view to reaching an amicable agreement or settlement.I have found this conversation exceedingly frustrating, as I know many have. Both sides (the original posters and subsequent commenters) have tried to communicate. There has been a problem, however, and I think I have figured it out.
It is The Big But.
It goes something like this:
I hear you saying X, Y, and Z….. BUT you don’t understand A,B,C and you should think A,B,C before X, Y,Z.
Oh, yes, I hear what you are saying about A,B,C, ….. BUT I am concerned about X,Y,Z….
A dialogue requires an exchange of ideas with a goal of understanding the other side of the issue and coming to an agreement of some sort. To do this, we have to start by listening.
lis·ten : to give attention; attend closely for the purpose of hearing; give ear, to pay attention; heed.You will note that this definition has nothing in it that denotes you speaking or expressing an opinion. It is merely taking in information. From listening, you are working toward understanding.
un·der·stand : to perceive the meaning of; grasp the idea of; comprehend; to grasp the significance, implications, or importance of.
Note that listening and understanding do not necessarily mean agreement. In fact, listening and understanding have nothing to do with your opinion whatsoever. Listening and understanding are about the perception of others, which is terribly difficult for us humans (for reasons stated before). But dialogue will never be successful without close and feverish work toward these two goals.
How do we move toward listening and understanding effectively?
Stop speaking. Yes, you.
Ask questions without your opinion interjected. Seek knowledge.
When you receive an answer, listen. The moment your brain goes “But I think…”, stop. Ask again. Listen again. When your brain goes “But what about…” STOP. Remember that listening and understanding are not about you. Understand their position. It is real and valid. You don’t have to agree, but that doesn’t mean you can’t understand. And once you truly understand, you can accept. And you may find common ground.
You may be saying…. BUT what about my opinion??? Stop.
di·a·logue: a conversation between two or more persons; an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue…. with a view to reaching an amicable agreement or settlement.A true dialogue means you will be asked questions. Answer them. Do not rage at the other side. In fact, as best as possible, do not mention the other side. It puts the recipient on the defensive. Present yours calmly. Explain what it means to you. Explain what you hope to achieve. Explain what you need help with. Be open to educating. Expect that they may not understand at first. Be okay with that. Allow their humanness.
And with all of this, approach others with compassion.
I fear that this community is not really ready for dialogue. I think questioning and listening with a simple goal toward understanding maybe needs to be where we work. Stop talking. Start listening. It is terrifically hard for us, but a struggle worth working toward.
The world is really good at tearing us apart. We are really good at tearing ourselves apart. Let’s not allow it to happen.