HOW TO LISTEN WHEN YOU DISAGREE
July 27, 2016 by Benjamin Mathes
“Hear the Biography, not the ideology.” — Agape
“When you listen, you may learn something new” — Dalai Lama
At the Republican National Convention, Benjamin Mathes put up a Free Listening sign. A young woman walked up, and like a young warrior preparing for battle, she said: “I don’t usually do this, and I know this isn’t a hot button topic anymore… But, I think abortion is wrong. It’s not a form of birth control, and people who have them should be arrested for murder.”
Let’s face it, it’s loud out there. It seems like everyone has something to say and somewhere to say it.
Our Facebook feeds are littered with articles, posts, and images from all types of people. For some of us, this is difficult to handle, but editing out the ones we disagree with until our feed looks more like an echo board of own thoughts, takes time and you don’t hear the other side – if we’re not careful, we’ll treat people this way. Editing out the ones we disagree with until we’re surrounded by people who are just like us. Then we wonder why we’re so divided.
How do I listen to someone when I disagree with them?
It takes a lot of forgiveness, compassion, patience, and courage to listen in the face of disagreement. We must work to hear the person not just the opinion.
When someone has a point of view we find difficult to understand, disagreeable, or even offensive, we must look to the set of circumstances that person has experienced that resulted in that point of view. Get their story, their biography, and you’ll open up the real possibility of an understanding that transcends disagreement.
Like the roots of a tree, our stories, which can create our beliefs, are completely unique, and also connected. It is through story that we can find common ground enough to co-exist in the face of great, often necessary, tension.
When you find yourself in disagreement, just ask one question: “Will you tell me your story? I’d love to know how you came to this point of view.”
As she spoke to me about her beliefs on abortion, I wanted to stop her, and tell her my story. I’ve sat with two loved ones as they suffered through the difficult decision and consequences of ending a pregnancy. It was a brutal human experience, and gave me an insight to something I never expected to witness. In moments like that, “choice” doesn’t seem to be the right word.
So, when she told me they should be arrested for terminating a pregnancy, the familiar burn of disagreement started to fire in me. There were so many things I wanted to say. I wanted to change her mind, to argue, to disagree. It’s a natural response. But, if my story brought me to my beliefs, then I needed to know how her story brought her to her beliefs.
So, I asked: “Thank you for sharing that. Tell me your story? I’d love to know how you came to this point of view.”
She seemed surprised by my interest. “Why? It doesn’t matter. Your sign said Free Listening, so I gave you something to listen to.”
“Give me more to listen to.”
“They should be locked up! It’s wrong. It’s not right to go out and sleep with whoever, then just vacuum away the result like it never happened.” She paused…then inhaled the entire world.
“And it’s not fair. All I’ve ever wanted to be is a mom. My whole life, I knew I was meant to have children. Then, when I was 18, the doctor told me I’d never have children. My ovaries were damaged, or missing…it doesn’t matter which. I kept it a secret, and when my husband found out, he left me. I’m alone, my body doesn’t work, I’m old…who will ever love me…”
I wondered if she could hear my heart breaking.
“…so, I guess I get upset when I see people who can get pregnant, who can have kids, who’s bodies work…who can be moms…and they just choose not to…”
Sometimes, there’s nothing to “disagree” with. I didn’t need to be right. I just needed to be there. She wiped away a few tears, gave me a hug, and thanked me for listening. She exhaled, and walked back into the RNC circus. Maybe one day, she’ll hear my story. But today, it was my turn to hear hers. I hope she felt loved.
The truth is, if our love can hold space for paradox, tension, and disagreement, there’s room for all types of beliefs and opinions. Division is a choice. Life isn’t a Facebook feed. Our love, our listening, must bring in, not edit out. Dare to listen, dare to be quiet, dare to seek understanding; in the end, it’s the people we need to love, not their opinions.