When we make the pain of another our own, we make a commitment to really see them. We take off our world view, lay down our preconceived ideas, and empathetically step into their shoes. This is a hard task because we are naturally filled with our own ideas from life experiences, so it’s never quite possible to enter into a conversation as a complete “blank slate.” But, making the commitment to put aside what your experiences have taught you in order to listen and really understand another is making a commitment to draw closer as a human family. We are saying “I want to hear about your life, let’s sit so I can hear what it’s like to be you.”
How do we do this?
· Lay down your ideas & your agenda
In order to really hear another person, we can’t go into a conversation with what we want to hear. It makes me think of the mindfulness practice of having a “beginner’s mind,” meaning we approach situations without big expectations we are hoping to fulfill. We just go in and work to be present to whatever arises.
· Be open
This one might be similar to the last, because putting aside your own ideas requires an openness. It means saying “I’m opening my mind and heart to hear whatever you have to say.”
· Listen & be slow to speak
If the topic on hand is extremely controversial, this can be the hardest thing to do. Often we think our main task when going into conversations is to prove our point, or make sure we are heard, but if we listen first, both sides can be heard. You might find that when you listen without thinking about a comeback, new creativity may present itself within the conversation.
The ability to empathize is to really grasp and feel what the other is feeling. This may sound like a boundary red-flag, but you can do this without letting the emotion or feeling take over. This step is necessary because the ability to feel then can shift many things internally, particularly our vision. When we feel, it usually helps something click inside to say “Oh, I can see what you’re saying. I once thought this way, but now I’m opening to see things in a whole new way.” There is beauty when we can empathize.
· Ask for clarification
No one wants you to pretend to “get it.” It can be lonely when you’re sharing and the other person doesn’t understand…but please don’t pretend to understand when you don’t! You can say, “What you’re describing sounds really tough, please tell me more so I can better understand you.”
· Let it impact you
Here’s where it gets good! Let the conversation impact you. If it moves you to change in any way, go with it. If it makes you look deeper within, great! It’s only when we allow big conversations to really get into the nooks and crannies of our being that we take steps to grow and develop as individuals. Be brave and let what you hear shift things within!
There are many important conversations that can be had in our current society. In light of Black History month, a key conversation that continues to be present in the news and our surroundings is that surrounding the tension that exists in our country racially. In my next post, three friends and colleagues of mine will be sharing their stories and viewpoints on what can be done to heal the racial divide that exists in our country.