How (Not) to Listen

My dad, bless his heart, had a most peculiar way of listening. Our conversations would go something like this:

Me: “I’m so cold.”
My dad: “How could you be cold, it’s hot in here.”

Or they would go like this:

Me: “This is a really steep hill. I’m exhausted from climbing.”
My dad: “How could you be exhausted, this isn’t steep at all, it’s practically flat.”

As you can imagine, we often got nowhere, fast. If hot was cold and steep was flat, I concluded it was best to keep my thoughts to myself.

But I worry. I am my father’s daughter and have inherited a number of traits from him. Is it possible that I also unconsciously disparage other people’s experience?

I had the opportunity to talk with a staff member in a Republican congressional office. We were talking about taking action on climate change. She said it’s not easy for Republicans to step forward on climate change: “If we do nothing the left calls us climate deniers, if we do something the left calls us disingenuous. We can’t win.”

I wanted so badly to say, “you’re wrong, it’s hot in here, it’s flat out there.” But I listened. This was her experience. In her experience, it’s not easy for Republicans to step forward on climate change. I need to hear this.

If I can really listen, maybe I’ll discover something. About me and about her. Maybe we’ll find a place that’s not too steep, not too flat, not too hot, not too cold where we can agree and learn how to work together.

That’s what happened with me and my dad. We both backed off a bit. Let some of the puff out of our chests. Released some of our righteous indignation. I stopped being so cold. He stopped being so hot. Funny thing happened—it became much easier for us to hear one another.

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