Listening to the Other Side

Feb 10, 2013 | Field Notes

I am constantly amazed at what I learn when I listen to others. When I hear another’s story I often find myself drawn into a wider word view, one that sometimes mirrors my own, but sometimes is very different from mine. Hearing another person’s worldview helps me to broaden my own horizon of meaning and it helps me to situate my own life. Of course, I presume the same happens for the other person as they listen to my stories.

Through the telling of our stories we grow together as pilgrims on this good earth of ours. Of course, this all becomes more difficult when I try to listen to those whose stories are painful. But even here, if I listen with my heart, I find that I am drawn in to a deeper communion with the other and this communion often is life giving. Deep listening with the heart is a spiritual practice that all religions encourage and it is certainly foundational to engaged spirituality. Listening to another’s story, then, can have profound spiritual significance both for the other and for myself.

But, what about when I listen to another’s political vision, especially if it is not one that I share? Ah, then, the listening becomes more delicate and requires a listening from my heart with the aid of my intellect. The reason for this is that politics concerns not only ideas but also the stories of individual people aspiring to live out those ideas. Politics is concerned with how to organize systems to serve people and their values, at least that is how it should be. I think we dishonour people when we try to manipulate them to serve systems rather than create systems that serve humans and, I would add here, that serve all of creation as well.

Political communication requires that we use our intellects to discern the wisdom of political policies as to how well they serve the needs of others, including our good earth. To grow to deeper political vision requires, then, a commitment to heartfelt listening and to intelligent discourse. Such a way of communicating often is very time consuming and a real challenge in our fast and furious culture. However, taking the time to listen to people’s stories and to discern the appropriateness of policies for humans and the environment can be a counter-cultural form of practicing politics. For those of us who seek to integrate the life of socio-political action within our spirituality learning to engaged in politics with heart and intellect can be a true service of agape love.

In the Christian scriptures we hear the story of Jesus instructing his disciples, who were fishers, to cast their nets to the other side of the boat. When they did this their catch was much more abundant than when they cast on only one side of their boat. Jesus seemed to understand the importance of casting to the other side, listening to the other side. Jesus knew that broadening our perspectives simply leads to abundance. It would appear then that Jesus would counsel widening our circle of concern to include listening to others and to include a politics of the discerning heart. Wise counsel I think.

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