Tuesday, August 01, 2006

It's Time to Really Listen

Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.
– William Blake

Though I have lived in this country for many years now, there are still many American expressions that I don’t understand. I remember trying to explain meditation to a young fellow who kept shaking his head and saying, “Man, I just don’t hear you.” In all innocence, I started over again a little louder. Finally it dawned on me what he really meant: “I just don’t want to hear you. I don’t like what you’re saying.”

This is what most of us do when there is disagreement. We carry around a pair of earplugs, and the minute somebody starts saying something we don’t like, we stuff them in our ears until he or she is through. Watch with some detachment the next time you find yourself quarreling with someone you love. It won’t look like a melodrama, but like a first-rate comedy – two people trying to reach an understanding by not listening to each other!

An effective way of dealing with a disagreement is simply to listen with complete attention, even if we don’t care for what the other person is saying. We are showing how our respect won’t waver no matter how vehemently we may disagree.
--Eknath Easwaran

I believe that Easwaran is right in saying that when people are embroiled in disagreements, they should "listen with complete attention" to each other. If people would do this, I don't doubt that many disagreements and conflicts would end much sooner and much less violently than too many of them do. And if this is true of individuals, it's surely also true of groups and even nations. When one watches the terrible conflict now raging in Lebanon between Israeli defense forces and Hezbollah, we hear both sides talking at and blaming one another, but do we see them really listening to one another, according each other respect if not for their ideologies and actions then at least for their fundamental humanness?

I'm not naive enough to believe that this alone will bring peace, enduring or ephemeral, to the Middle East. But it seems to me that it has to be the beginning, the foundation of any chance at lasting peace. Let this deep and respectful listening to the sufferings and hopes of people on both sides of this conflict begin with you and me and spread outward like ripples in a pond.

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