Listening Generously

I was listening to a podcast interview with African American feminist, author, scholar and activist bell hooks, and she spoke about the importance of meaningful conversations as a tool for learning, more powerful than didactic lecture.

Conversation is the new means of learning.
–bell hooks

Every day I am acutely aware of how unaccustomed people are to being genuinely and generously heard. We all need to be listened to without the other person preparing to jump in with their opinion, argument, or advice, however well-intentioned they might be. This is why we need conscious tools for real conversation, conversations in which compassion, respect and humility are the cornerstones of our discourse.

Many different cultures, religions and communities have rich tools, rituals and practices for meaningful discourse and dialogue. There are innumerable books, TED talks, websites and organizations with titles like “courageous conversations,” “critical conversations,” “public conversations,” “compassionate listening,” “ask big questions,” and more.

We need people and places for conversations in which we welcome silence as much as words, where we listen with our minds, our bodies and our hearts.

Listening creates a holy silence. When you listen generously to people, they can hear truth in themselves, often for the first time. And in the silence of listening, you can know yourself in everyone. Eventually, you may be able to hear, in everyone and beyond everyone, the unseen singing softly to itself and to you.

Rachel Naomi Remen, MD