I recently read the Zen of Listening by Rebecca Shafir and in the book there were a number of exercises designed to move one towards becoming a more mindful listener. Shafir says that this has to do with opening the mind and clearing away the noise and barriers that hinder our ability to listen. There was one exercise in particular that I really appreciated and thought I would share it with you.
The exercise called for you to open your mind a couple times a week to something that you have previously been against and do not know much about. Then try the approach with your not so favorite people. The author gave her example which was that she had disliked football based on some preconceived notions about those who play and watch the game. However, she acknowledged that she had never taken the time to really watch a game. After doing so one day, the result was that she had an experience that widened her knowledge and understanding. She wrote that she discovered a few things about the sport that was interesting and entertaining, although it might not ever be her “thing”.
What is it that you have declared that you dislike and/or are against? Is there a person or group of persons in particular against whom you have built up a wall in your mind based on some prejudice, bias, or judgments you hold? Shafir refers to these as kinds of barriers of distraction and I believe that these barriers weaken and severely diminish our capacity to become mindful listeners. Our tendency to prejudge people, ideas, and things blinds and deafens us to the value of other perspectives or points of view. It is as if we close our eyes, ears, and minds when encounter that with which we disagree, but this is rooted in ignorance.
Have you ever considered why we might be so afraid of opening our minds to views that are different than our own? I think that some people believe that if they listen to someone else’s view, it will somehow impact their own view or beliefs. Being open minded is not about transforming your mind into a dumping ground to accept any and every idea or viewpoint that others present. Instead it is about creating mental space that allows for new ideas and perspectives as you filter them. It is about acknowledging that other people’s perspectives are just as valid as your own, albeit different.
Joseph Addison wrote “If men would consider not so much wherein they differ, as wherein they agree, there would be far less of uncharitableness and angry feeling in the world.” I echo this sentiment. Our inability to find some value and good in listening to others fosters and perpetuates intolerance and divisiveness.
Football still isn’t Shafir’s thing, but at least now she has expanded her knowledge and understanding and is able to appreciate aspects of the sport to include its players and what it offers to its fans. Similarly, you don’t have to become best friends with that person you dislike or change how you vote or what you believe. You don’t have to throw away your approach to doing certain things. That is not the goal. To give yourself an opportunity to learn something, to heighten your awareness, to experience new things, to strengthen your relationship with others and with yourself is the goal.
Give the exercise a try and start chipping away at those barriers so that you can experience the benefits of mindful listening.
Contact columnist LaTonya Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.