Today in the United States, we are experiencing great divides in our political, economic, and social systems. We have become deeply polarized in our opinions and perspectives. There is little curiosity about the thoughts, feelings, and experiences behind others’ viewpoints. Staking out our polarized positions and holding fast to our opinions and special interests is driving us further apart. Unfortunately, similar polarization is happening around the world.
There is a great need now for deep listening on all levels of our society – listening beyond the words, feelings, and perspectives with compassionate curiosity – striving to understand someone else’s life experiences and circumstances. It’s time to set aside judgments and explore ideas together in a safe, open, and non-threatening space. From there, we can then make more informed choices and decisions about how we will move forward.
Yet how do we begin?
Cultivating the art of listening actually begins within ourselves. We all have different voices inside of us, and those voices are constantly responding to the information we gather out in the world. The Three Intelligences tool (head, belly, and heart) is just one of several Transformational Presence frameworks that can help us listen to the various voices within us and clarify our own perspectives on what is happening.
We can also consciously choose objective sources of information about what is happening in the world – journalists, media outlets, and people that present information in an unbiased way. It’s up to us to practice making clear distinctions between unbiased information and “commentary” that is cleverly disguised as “news” – commentary that has been influenced by the perspectives and interests of a particular party or viewpoint. Both can be valuable if we recognize the difference. Both offer information. Some of that information may be factual; some may not. It’s up to us to listen and read accordingly.
We can also read and listen from an open and discerning heart, and allow that discerning heart to open our minds. When we engage our heart intelligence, by nature, the intellect is usually also engaged. However, when we listen first from the intellect, we risk never touching the heart. Starting from the greater intelligence of the heart, we are more likely to connect to our own greater wisdom.
When connected to our greater wisdom, the heart intelligence has an uncanny ability to hear different perspectives without judgment. The heart intelligence can recognize the truth of a situation much more quickly and clearly than the intellect can alone. That recognition often softens the tone of our inner dialogue, allowing us to sense a bigger picture of what is going on.
As we practice engaging the heart intelligence, we begin to listen to others with more curiosity and compassion as well. We are better able to be with others who may see things differently than we do, and to listen with the intention of expanding awareness and understanding.
It’s easy to get swept into the “echo chambers” of our own circles. It’s normal to want to spend time with people who view the world as we do. We find safety and acceptance there. However, staying comfortably within our own circles limits our experience and awareness. We can easily forget that there might also be validity in others’ thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. They might walk on different paths than we do. Their experience of life might be different than ours. What if neither is right or wrong? What if they are just different? What if the bigger picture of what is happening can only be known by all of us together, not by any of us alone?
Albert Einstein said, “Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded by opinions and special interests. If we are going to find our way forward, it is up to each of us to see, sense, and feel from the greater truth of our own hearts and our higher wisdom. It’s up to each of us to engage others in dialogue – to listen to their story and perspective, even if they aren’t open to ours at first, and see what new insights we discover. We are not all going to agree on everything. Each of us has access to different aspects of that higher wisdom. Therefore, each of us brings different aspects of the truth. However, if we are open, curious, and hold our judgments at bay, we might open some new lines of communication.
Listen to people outside of your own circle. Trust that there is something to discover, and you will find it. Suspend your opinions and viewpoints for a bit and open to another perspective. Find out where their perspective comes from. Learn about how their life experience is different than yours. Step beyond your own special interests and become a steward for a greater good. Seek out pathways forward where everyone can get at least some of what they need. As you model this with others, they may start to do the same.
It’s up to each of us to build bridges instead of walls. It’s up to each of us to cultivate the art of deep listening in our society. It’s up to each of us to do our part to create a world that works.
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