The other day, a friend asked me to join a conversation group to discuss ” how to reach out” to those with opposing political views. I confess we are both liberals and those to whom we might reach out are radical conservatives – the far right. As the following cartoon satirically depicts, post-election, some liberals express a desire to “heal the divide” in our drastically polarized country. 

This aspiration sinks right down to the personal level where friends and families, neighbors, and co-workers hold opinions on opposite ends of the spectrum. Four years of the Trump presidency and the vitriol of the 2020 election have split apart some close relationships. Many, mostly liberals, believe it is time to mend our families, communities, and the country’s torn fabric.

The issue is not a burning one for me personally.  I do not know many ultra-conservatives, and I do not plan to plow into the company of Alt-right strangers waving an olive branch in my hand.  With the two to four I do know I have an amicable relationship, which does not include talking about our political views.

I have erected some barriers to protect myself from those whose political, social and economic views differ from and oppose my own. Frankly, many of them scare me.  I am afraid of everything from awkwardness to physical harm. But, I feel, given the opportunity in a setting that feels safe, it would be closed-minded and rude not to engage with those who differ. 

Why? On a microcosmic level, I acknowledge the interconnectedness and interdependence of us all.  I know we are more alike than different.  I know we all suffer; we all want to have enough, be happy, and be free. 

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn, nominated for the Noble Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., suggests an uncomplicated approach   He encourages responding to those we might consider enemies or opponents, because they have the potential to cause us harm, by listening deeply and compassionately:

 “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”


“Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less.”

Listening deeply involves letting go of my need to be heard and of my preferred outcome. One must have no other agenda than listening to understand. Deep listening eschews judgment, labeling, denigration or mockery. The listener is patient, calm, open-hearted, receptive, and compassionate.

I do not deny this is a tall order, but I tell myself I must begin somewhere with someone.  If I do not, the healthy unity of differences, the tolerance and respect we desperately need in relationships, communities and nations will be an empty and vain hope.

6 thoughts on “Deep Listening

  1. thank you for sharing this post with me Moriah. I haven’t managed to subscribe to With All Due Respect despite trying. I feel the same as you do, and Thay’s quotes have been on my mind especially when I am standing at the Friday vigil with the Black Lives Matter cardboard sign which elicits many supportive honks from cars passing by but also angry, Trump flag waving pickup trucks that scream curses and rev up their motors to show their anger…. If I didn’t have both my arms up in the air to hold the sign high, so it could be seen by all cars at the intersection, I would wave kindly to those so angry at us because of our positive signs for peace and human caring. The quarantine and suffering due to the pandemic makes it difficult to be in contact with those Republicans and Conservatives who rant and rave many still without facemasks…. I can’t imagine what the teachers of their children must be going through with distance or in person learning, and how they broach even teaching the constitution that their parents don’t respect or observe (but which immigrants who have had to memorize and explain on the test to become citizens).

    On Sat, Dec 19, 2020 at 2:34 PM With All Due Respect wrote:

    > posted: ” The other day, a friend asked me to join a > conversation group to discuss ” how to reach out” to those with opposing > political views. I confess we are both liberals and those to whom we might > reach out are radical conservatives – the far right. As the fol” >


  2. Moriah, this opens up so, so much. I wish we were sitting across from each other in live conversation right now! I will try to be succinct here: I have a lifelong, sister-like friend who is quite far to the right. I’ve made it a practice to listen, and to ask questions over the years since her values shifted so drastically…however, I’ve never been comfortable sharing what and how *I* think, specifically. Nor does she ever ask directly. After an upsetting confrontation this summer about mask wearing, I did, recently, share my thoughts in a fairly blunt way. In a way that said, “I say this with no offense to anyone–simply in acknowledgement that we have different ideas and I’d like to share mine instead of hide them…” (I’ve had no response yet. We’ll see.) One thing I’ve done is gather a small group originally ‘designed’ to be a conversation about race. Not surprisingly, the politics you describe also comes up when talking about ‘hard conversations.’ We’ve recently started role playing (on Zoom)–where we each bring a difficult exchange we want to practice with a partner. Whoa. What a lens that is. I hate doing it, I’m terrible at it–AND, it’s critical for me. Because if I don’t practice, I’ll never speak up, I’ll never engage. For me, it’s not so much listening to the ‘other side’–I’ve done that, however uncomfortably (subsequent stomach pains). It’s the speaking up when it comes, for example, to a far right friend who does not believe in the BLM movement, who feels Trump is misunderstood, and who’s ‘tired of hearing about White Privilege. It doesn’t exist.’ (This is a chaplain in a Buffalo City Mission!) Sigh. I can’t *just* listen. One member of our group taught be the term ‘neutral curiosity.’ That came to mind immediately when I read your post. Showing up in hard conversations with neutral curiosity instead of knee-jerk judgement. An excellent term to keep top of mind. And hard! Enter…the role playing. And again, not fun–but so helpful. Even if you don’t have to manage the awkwardness yourself much (what a relief!), it could be a really effective way for you to support others in the group!


    1. Carolyn, the role-playing sounds like an excellent idea. I might suggest it to the Racial Justice group here. Good for you for speaking up with your conservative friend. I hope she will want to find out more about what you think and believe. Many very conservative people are, I think, like the fundamentalist Christian I was in my twenties. I wanted everything to fit into neat little boxes, be clear, black or white, and settled once and for all. As I aged, the complex shades of the world and the beings in it became so apparent that I had to abandon my comfortable and self-righteous little boxes, tolerate the discomfort and open my heart and mind. I’m still on that journey and deep listening is a goal, not where I have arrived. As SF said when I asked her to proof my post, “Well, it’s a perspective…”


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