Forbearance and listening

If you’ve known me for more than a few weeks, you’ve likely noticed that I have a lot to say.

About a lot of things.

Numerous are my strongly-felt opinions. And before I go further, I want to say thank you. It can sometimes be a lot to bear, my intensity—especially if we happen to disagree—yet, with rare exception, the people I’m privileged to dialogue with on a routine basis are graceful, and mostly kind. We’re all on a journey of discovery, and (again, with rare exception) you support me in continually finding my footing, exploring, and attempting to persuade. As I reflect on the past several months (and years), I’m especially fond of this community I’ve surrounded myself with—this truly diverse body of humanity.

So how does someone with “a lot to say” go months without spouting off on her blog?

Some of it is the seasonal nature of life; there’s homeschooling to do, a toddler to wrangle, the ceaseless “mundane” demands of day-to-day life, a business to run, women to invest in, and of course a self to cultivate, care for, prune.

But a lot of it is forbearance. Something that has never been my forte, and something that’s become a bit of a practice for me, over the past year. (I know I’m not the only one who struggles in this. “Forbearance” is an alien virtue to most people who are regularly dialoguing on the internet, it seems.)

The problem is when you have a lot of things to say, and you spend a lot of time turning those things over in your mind—formulating your stance, pre-writing a draft—you run the risk of becoming a weak or ineffectual listener, and that’s a prospect that fills me with disgust. (I do not want to become that person.) So I’ve been doing a lot of listening lately, and I have to admit: listening without building a response has been a significant challenge for me.

Here are three practical things that have helped me strengthen my listening:

  1. Assume from the beginning of a dialogue that the other person/people are not interested in what think, and won’t ask probing questions of me. (This enables me to pause the part of my brain that’s structuring a reply and devote myself to listening and perceiving.)
  2. Allow myself to indulge my curiosity about others, and ask (polite) probing questions of them. This helps me to hear each person as an individual, rather than lumping them into a category and making assumptions about them.
  3. Do not offer an alternative perspective or contradictory point unless expressly invited to do so. (i.e. until invited to do so, I make no statements, I only ask questions.)

Interestingly, this process of critical listening has not resulted in the outcome you might predict; as I gather more and more stories, reasons, conclusions from others, I find that my positions (on many, but not all issues) are becoming firmer. By silencing myself and my own perspectives, it’s much easier to see where others’ perspectives break from truth, or reason. (Of course none of them ask about that, so it’ll be a secret between me any my blog. 😉 )

One more observation, and then I’m done on this subject for now.

Many (certainly not all) people I ask questions of seem genuinely threatened by someone asking them to elaborate, or provide a specific example for illustrative purposes, or describe what has influenced them the most on a particular issue. I’m surprised by how little good faith is present in many people, and how sensitive they are to being asked to explain their thinking. It’s the kind of defensive lashing-out that one might expect from a teen from a troubled home, not a fully-grown, seemingly emotionally-healthy adult. I have a few theories as to why that is (being plugged into a constant loop of aggression/assumed victimhood/outrage is one possible reason), but in listening first, I’ve been able to rediscover compassion and empathy for those hurting people, as opposed to condemnation, or general “yucking” them (i.e. “YUCK, I’m SO GLAD I’m not like THAT”).

So one more time: thank you. Both for having patience and grace for me in my longtime estrangement from forbearance, and in this current (admittedly privileged) exercise of thinking about thinking.

I won’t promise regularity here, and the next thing I post will probably be a few simple veggie recipes, as I’ve been focusing on growing my culinary oeuvre.

Peace to you!

mj

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