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.”

And:

“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.

14 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:

    > respectful.com 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” >

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  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!

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    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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  3. Hi Moriah, I’ve left comments here before in your EA posts. I came back to your site today to refresh myself on some of your EA wisdom and came across this post. If you wanted to engage in a thoughtful, written back and forth with someone who considers themself deeply conservative on most economic and social issues, I’d be happy to oblige. It’s easy to point out lowest common denominators on both sides (we both have them) and I find that most liberals are genuinely surprised to meet a thoughtful Trump supporter, which I’ve been told I am (though I’m not by any means rabid: I rate his Presidency a C+ overall). I wouldn’t support him again, but probably for different reasons that you might imagine, but I would be glad to articulate some thoughts for you if you think it might help you and/or your community better understand the Right. We don’t all bite! 🙂

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    1. Ryan, I apologize for leaving you hanging with this comment. I did not see it until today, March 15, though it somehow got approved and presumably posted for others to see. Thank you for offering to dialogue. I am certainly open to hearing your political, social, and economic opinions. I have appreciated your previous comments on my EA series, which I am in the process of publishing as a small book. You have, indeed, been thoughtful in your reactions to my posts. So, to start, why do you rate Trump’s presidency as a C+ overall? Why would you not support him if he ran again? May I ask you to respond as succinctly as possible and I will reply in the same way. I look forward to hearing from you.

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      1. I’d be happy to! First, I think it’s important to point out that I hold most politicians in the lowest regard, believing them to be inept, knaves, liars, and backstabbers. I suspect most conservatives would agree with me here. I’m deeply cynical having been lied to many times over important matters over the years while we have watched the country go from center-right to center-left over the last few generations. I mention this because a lot of the flak Trump took from the left was personality/character based. To many of us, we shrugged this off because we’ve trained ourselves to look past what a politician says to what he or she does. Acta non verba. Just a difference in orientation I’ve noticed when discussing Trump that I think it’s important to point out as we’re often evaluating from completely different perspectives.

        Secondly, let me briefly state why I supported him and why I wouldn’t support him again. There were 3 issues that led me to support Trump in 2016: non-interventionism (war fatigue), trade policy, and immigration policy. Everything else was noise to me. I also figured that after 16 years of what I viewed as inept leadership (Bush/Obama), it couldn’t get much worse with Trump who ostensibly had far more managerial/executive experience than either of these predecessors. (I will make a quick sidebar comment that I’m tired of people with zero executive experience but a great made-for-TV persona thinking they will have the chops to be President as the position is basically CEO of the nation. This includes people on the Right and Left.)

        Fast-forward 4 years and I see now that Trump, while he did some good things such as tax cuts, better trade deals, de-regulation, SCOTUS picks, no new foreign wars, and many other things (keep in mind I’m a traditional Republican, you probably think this list is horrible! 🙂 he ultimately was a terrible manager and did not rise to the challenge of healing the national divide. To me, this is one of POTUS’s chief responsibilities and he failed miserably. So while I’m sympathetic to some of his policy prescriptions, I got the experience to know that another term would not be a good thing for the country.

        The interesting part to me is that policywise, he governed as a moderate or even liberal Republican. But ultimately, his distasteful approach and his inability to lead and manage cost him reelection (along with a whole host of other things I’m oversimplifying for the purpose of brevity). The buck stops at the top and I would be lacking in integrity if I refused to acknowledge his failings.

        Let me say one more thing here. I’m continually astounded by the lack of nuance in discussion and the seeming inability of people to hold two truths that bear no relation to one another (Donald Trump is a terrible person AND Donald Trump did some good things as POTUS) in mind at the same time from BOTH sides of the aisle. As you know, having served in an EA role, performance evals are a mixture of good and bad and very rarely is someone a pure saint or a pure sinner. We’re all broken, enormously complex, and deserving of grace from one another.

        I could keep going but I’ll stop there and see if can make a fruitful exchange out of all this.

        P.S. I can’t wait to see your EA book.

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      2. Thank you, Ryan. I appreciate your directness and clarity as well as your identification of one of your underlying assumptions (e.g., that you hold most politicians in the lowest regard, believing them to be inept, knaves, liars, and backstabbers.) On the assumption that you and I will have a fruitful exchange, may I suggest some ground rules for this dialogue? 1) Whenever we are aware of our underlying assumptions we will state them.2) We will each ask the other one genuinely curious question about his or her views in each post. 3) We will acknowledge things that we agree on. 4) We will not feel compelled to respond to every point the other makes. And lastly, we agree that we are starting from a basis of respect for one another. What do you say?

        I agree that Trump is neither a good manager/chief executive nor capable of healing the national divide. And I agree that both of those are crucial skills for a president at this time. I too am very disturbed by the lack of nuance in political discussions and the painting of parties and individuals as all bad or all good. I feel, among other things, that this insults my intelligence as a voter and a citizen. However, I do find it frustrating that Republicans most often “seem” to put aside their personal convictions to vote as a unified block, and that Democrats fail to do so when it is most crucial for the liberal agenda.

        Some of my underlying assumptions are:
        * the poor are not necessarily poor because they are bad, lazy, stupid, or dishonest
        * black lives do matter, all lives matter
        * systemic racism has fostered the inhumane treatment of people of color in America since the early colonists arrived here and though some progress has been made to address this, not nearly enough has been accomplished
        * socialism is not essentially evil (all bad)
        * intellectuals do not necessarily hold those with less education in contempt
        * immigrants and asylum-seekers as a group are not ruining American society or the economy
        * combatting climate change is of supreme importance for the survival of all living beings
        Those are not all of my underlying assumptions but they’re a start. Do we agree on any of them?

        Please tell me what you believe is good about Trump’s trade, immigration and deregulation policies. I think I have asked you at least two questions on which I am genuinely curious to hear your views.

        Please don’t think, if I do not respond as quickly as you do, that I am not interested in pursuing this dialogue. I am very interested in this experiment – can a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican have a civil, respectful, and fruitful dialogue. I look forward to your response.

        P.S. I’ll let you know when the EA book is published.

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      3. Yes, Moriah, I can certainly agree to your terms and I look forward to this exchange as it will force me to clarify some long held assumptions and learn more about your beliefs. I can guarantee you that it will be civil, at least, for my own part :). I would like to propose one more ground rule and that is we provide ample time to respond to each other’s posts. I have had some very busy weeks and sadly have not had time to collect my thoughts on this and write a response. Thank you and I look forward to this!

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  4. Moriah, here we go!

    First, a confession. I laughed out loud when I read your sentence about how liberals fail to vote as a unified block as I would say the same thing about the (worthless) GOP. Remember John McCain’s famous thumbdown to ending the Obamacare debate? There’s just one example, I could provide plenty more!

    OK, now for the fun. Let me address your assumptions one-by-one and then I will state some of my own for you to respond. I can’t do colors so I will respond after a hard return. I tried doing capital letters but it looked like I was yelling at you so I quickly abandoned that approach.

    “the poor are not necessarily poor because they are bad, lazy, stupid, or dishonest.”
    100% agree.

    “black lives do matter, all lives matter”
    100% agree.

    “systemic racism has fostered the inhumane treatment of people of color in America since the early colonists arrived here and though some progress has been made to address this, not nearly enough has been accomplished.”
    I would of course agree that mistreatment of any person on the basis of skin color is wrong, but I feel like systemic racism has a lot of meaning that I don’t understand yet. Can you unpack that term for me?

    “socialism is not essentially evil (all bad)”
    100% agree, though I do think that the public needs to revisit our definition of this word. It used to mean state-ownership of the means of production which has a very 19th century flavor to it and not at all what most people mean when they use it nowadays. In my speech, I have come to identify socialism as wealth transfers, which I generally dislike greatly. How would you define socialism for our age?

    “intellectuals do not necessarily hold those with less education in contempt”
    100% agree, people hold contempt for others no matter their pedigree.

    “immigrants and asylum-seekers as a group are not ruining American society or the economy”
    100% agree.

    “combatting climate change is of supreme importance for the survival of all living beings”
    Insufficient information to agree or disagree. I’m admittedly skeptical of this one, but of course open to the evidence and where it leads. What leads you to believe the situation is so dire? And what, if anything, would falsify this belief for you?

    I will get to your questions of me in a follow-up post as I want to spent some time articulating why I favor less immigration and regulation.

    But I did assemble a list of underlying assumptions that I thought you might wish to respond to in the same fashion that I did to yours:

    *In general, problems should be dealt with at the lowest level of authority competent enough to deal with the problem at hand. You don’t move a pebble with an excavator, you save it for the boulders. This is also known as the principle of subsidiarity.
    *Most political ideas are not bad in themselves, just bad in their application. I often tell people the following to help them understand what I mean by this: at the federal level, I’m libertarian, at the state level I’m a Republican, at the county level I’m a moderate, at the neighborhood level I’m a Democrat, and at the household level I’m a socialist. My overarching problem with the modern Democrat party is they want national solutions to just about everything. Which is also bad because…
    *Government programs, once installed, rarely change at their core. This is why I tend to favor smaller, local interventions because if there is anything we know is that govt can’t anticipate all the problems and if we locate a solution in it, it DOES NOT do a good job adapting. Too much bureaucracy and red tape!
    *If you want to truly understand something, first follow the money. Most news media that American consume is designed for clicks and ratings, not delivery of hard-hitting news that may be unpleasant for their respective customer bases to hear. Please understand I’m not discriminating against the Left here, the Right does it too.
    *Too big to fail is too big to exist. The reasons conservatives are rightly concerned with concentration of power in government (diminishing of freedoms and the individual) apply equally to mega-corporations. It’s time for conservatives to stop worshiping at the altar of capitalism and start wielding some antitrust hammers!

    I fear this might be too long to be easily digested, so I’ll pause here and await your commentary!

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    1. As you say, now for the fun!

      Regarding McCain’s, Murkowski’s, and Collin’s tanking of the Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act without replacing it, well, those were the good old days. McCain knew he was dying and had nothing to lose, so he was emboldened to vote his conscience. But Collins and Murkowski had a great deal to lose and still acted on principle. Collins, at least, became much more risk-averse as the Trump/McConnell era rolled on. Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme court is a case in point. But your point is taken. I guess I tend to notice, and find far more annoying, Democratic defections from party-line votes than Republican ones.

      I was encouraged by how many times you wrote 100% agree next to my underlying assumptions. You confirmed my belief that we human beings have more and more essential things in common than our differences; we just tend to focus on the differences and then rank one another as “better” or “worse” accordingly. Keeping in mind that we agree on many things makes it easier and safer to talk about our disagreements.

      I certainly don’t have the expertise to unpack systemic racism for you. When I use that term, I mean that society has been organized systematically through customs, beliefs, and laws. Our system and its institutions judge, discriminate against, and abuse individuals because of their physical characteristics and ancestral lineage. I am a relative newcomer to understanding a tiny bit about systemic racism. I’m currently reading “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson. She relates systemic racism in the US to India’s caste system and the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. It’s a horrific and enlightening book.

      Regarding socialism, I can see that you will teach me not to be sloppy in my use of words. I looked up “socialism,” and, of course, you are right; in its classic sense, it involves state ownership of the means of production and wealth transfers. I meant “democratic socialism.” I can’t improve on this description of it from a Time Magazine Article:
      “American politicians today who are associated with democratic socialism generally favor New Deal-style programs, believing that government is a force for good in people’s lives and that a large European-style welfare state can exist in a capitalist society. They generally support ideas such as labor reform and pro-union policies, tuition-free public universities and trade schools, universal healthcare, federal jobs programs, fair taxation that closes loopholes that the wealthiest citizens have found, and using taxes on the rich and corporations to pay for social welfare programs.” [What Is Democratic Socialism? How It Differs From Communism | Time]

      I probably would have voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2020 democratic primary if he had been 25 years younger. In my mind, the common good depends not on the survival and triumph of the fittest, most robust, most intelligent, or most affluent, but on everyone having enough (not too much or too little) and the stronger helping and sharing with the weaker. I would not object to being called a “bleeding heart” liberal.

      Climate change—I believe the situation is dire because science proves it is. The polar ice caps are melting. Bird, animal, fish, and insect species are disappearing. The sea level is rising, and weather events (wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes) are becoming more frequent and severe. It is April 10 in Mid Coast, Maine, and it was 70 degrees today! I believe human activity has caused these changes. In our drive to make more money, have more possessions, eat more, do everything in excess, we have ignored our interconnectedness and our interdependence with the natural world. We have been self-centered and unbalanced.

      What would falsify this belief for me? A change in scientific findings showing that the climate disasters I mention above are reversing themselves, however gradually, without any change in human behavior to mitigate these effects. What would it take to convince you that climate change is a serious threat to future generations of those who inhabit the earth?

      “In general, we should deal with problems at the lowest level of authority competent enough to deal with the issue at hand.” In principle, I would agree. I would go first to a co-worker whom I felt had mistreated me to seek redress, and only later to her boss if we could not come to some mutual agreement. I agree that if a problem can be solved locally, to the benefit of all parties, that’s undoubtedly the place to start. But I feel there might be a trap in this kind of thinking. While liberal Massachusetts might enact laws to protect its LGBTQ citizens from discrimination, conservative Alabama can pass laws that endanger the human rights of its LGBTQ population. Both states see themselves as solving a problem, each with an opposite solution. In complex moral and ethical issues, the narrower local interests may not be capable of a larger and fairer viewpoint.

      “Most political ideas are not bad in themselves, just bad in their application. I often tell people the following to help them understand what I mean by this: at the federal level, I’m libertarian, at the state level, I’m a Republican, at the county level, I’m a moderate, at the neighborhood level, I’m a Democrat, and at the household level I’m a socialist.” I love this description of you! It just proves how complex we all are and how nuanced our approaches to life.

      Yes, the government does have a difficult time adapting programs to meet developing needs. Yes, there is way too much red tape in virtually every government program. The little person (the one who can’t afford expensive lawyers to figure out the loopholes) is disadvantaged in this situation. Adaptiveness, nimbleness, open-mindedness—I’d like to see far more of these at all government and institutional levels and in interpersonal interactions.

      First, follow the money? I don’t know about first, but yes, by all means, follow the money. I agree about the media, left and right. Too big to fail is too big to exist? If you are talking about banks and corporations, I agree. I don’t see a dangerous concentration of power in “the government.” However, I have observed an alarmingly perilous concentration of power in President Trump, Vladimir Putin, and other autocrats or autocratic-leaning leaders. What diminished freedoms of the individual are you concerned about? I would like to hear your views on this in detail and am hoping that we can dedicate one whole exchange of comments to this topic.

      I can’t think of a single freedom that I value that would be diminished by a government of strong, ethical, compassionate representatives elected by and accountable to the entire population. I am not an idealist. I know we are all wounded, bounded by our conditioned perspectives, and subject to misperceptions. I am a reductionist, I suppose. I reduce all issues and decisions to what is true, kind, generous, hopeful, and life-giving.

      May I ask what your business affiliation is? What is your position in it? And how do your experiences there influence your views on immigration policy and less regulation? Each of these issues would also lend itself to a single topic exchange, in my view.

      Back to you, Ryan. No hurry. I took plenty long to respond to your last post.

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