I don’t usually write about my personal beliefs but I am going to today. Nothing political. Something deeper than that.
We all like to think we ‘listen’ to people – we often assure them, “I’m listening to you” But are we, really?
Of course listening at all is better than not listening. So we feel superior to the shouters and those whose smug certainties make them morally and intellectually deaf to others. But all too often even those of us who do listen, do so in the shallowest way. We listen to find out if the other person agrees with us or not and then we wait. And when they finish we disagree with their view and re-iterate our own. They do the same and each time round, voices raise and tempers fray.
I would call this democratic listening. It is turn taking that makes the effort to be polite. But no one is concerned to get behind what the other person said in order to understand why they fear what they fear, and believe what they believe. For democracy it is enough to know we disagree. Then we set about trying to convince some imagined audience of the undecided. We turn a conversation into a hustings. Everyone listens but no one understands.
How many times at the end of such a debate have you heard people say, “I can’t understand why he thinks that”? And that is my point. Too often we do not try to understand the legitimate fears that brought the person to the opinion they express. Not really. Our concern with the other person’s opinion is only that they change it. But will they, if all we do is argue against them?
Might we do better to try to understand them and the fears that underpin their opinions? Behind every opinion I have ever disagreed with I have nearly always found a fear I could at least acknowledge. I might not agree with that fear or share it myself but often I could sympathize with it. I could at least imagine ‘why’. And that, to me, is the way forward from blunt disagreement to the beginnings of understanding.
Our times are full of fears. We become afraid when our old certainties, like old gods, are deserted by some while still defended by others. Each side feels betrayed by the other. And it is that feeling of betrayal which will, I argue, bring us to ruin if we let it.
Each side feels we could solve the problems which beset us all if we could only see the problem clearly and pull together. But we aren’t pulling together are we? And each side bitterly blames the other.
Both sides feel the other is putting us all in terrible danger. In times like ours we do not always feel we have the luxury of agreeing to disagree. The shadows of our different fears lead us to see those who disagree as a greater danger than the original crisis. Each side becomes certain that there is only one path to safety and salvation and those who follow the false god are liable to bring destruction upon us all. Therefore ‘they’, are the enemy who must be silenced.
The sense of having been betrayed is strong and violent.
In such times as ours we have to do better than just disagreeing. If we do not make the effort to really listen to each other and admit the validity of our different fears, then we will fall upon each other just as we have done so often before.