A New Kind of Revolution: The Politics of Listening

politics of listening

This may not be a popular opinion.

I’m writing it anyway because my own integrity requires it.

First, I do not like what I see and hear on the news about what is happening in our country. In fact, I became so disempowered by the news that I opted out about 18 months ago. I just stopped paying attention and figured if there was something I needed to know, I’d hear about it eventually. This chafes my mother to no end.

I’m not saying this was a good approach nor am I advocating you follow it. I’m just saying it’s what I did in response to circumstances in our country and world that I felt powerless to change.

This post is the first step in a new approach.

I live in Portland, OR, and I frequently see t-shirts, bumper stickers, and banners that say “RESIST.” I get why people advocate this, but I’m not sure it will work.

I want to offer a different perspective.

Resistance may be the very thing that’s keeping you/they/us stuck in an endless tug-of-war, whether we are talking about Congress, border patrol, gun control—or your own relationships in your family.

Carl Jung said, “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” When you resist, do you get more of what you don’t want? I know I do. When I dig my heels in about something, or lash out, I get that back. I see it every time I try to “resist” ice cream – I start obsessing about it.

What happens when your teenagers resist? Or when you resist something at work?

What if all the energy we put into resistance against what we don’t like makes it greater? We make the other person wrong. We make the other political party wrong. We yell at our kids—and in various ways, they yell back. Look at nature. We try to control it and she fights back with a vengeance. (If you’re interested in learning more about the psychology of resistance, check out this article.)

If you believed this concept, what would you do differently? How could you “be the change?”

You’ve probably seen this quote from Gandhi before, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I certainly have, but when I thought, “Be the change,” I thought I needed to save the world by going on a hunger strike, which was NOT going to happen, so I ignored it. I pretended like it didn’t apply to me because … I was too preoccupied just getting through my day. “Being the change” was daunting.

Until last weekend when I had a powerful insight.

I was at a seminar and listened to a career military man in a gun-rights t-shirt ask the group of us, who appeared to have liberal leanings, to be sensitive when we talk about our country. He went on to describe how he spends his days: Spotting safety threats so that we — all of us —have a choice; so that we are free to go about our business.

It hit me that he was risking his life every day so that I have a choice and can go to the grocery store and buy organic produce. All he was asking was that I be more sensitive to how my words might impact others. I had an idea.

After the break I stood up and made a promise to him that I would no longer sit on the sidelines of unproductive political discussions or America bashing. I love my country. I don’t like the way it works right now, but I love my country. I promised to ask questions and listen. This is what I can do to “be the change”: listen.

Throughout the day other people in the seminar spoke with him. They had conversations, not a debate.

He went into work on Monday and with a colleague figured out a better way for the U.S. to distribute food to countries in need, thereby saving countless people from starving.

All I did was listen. And stop arguing. And get off the sidelines.

I invite you to get outside your comfort cage (yes, it is a cage) and listen to someone whose views are not the same as yours. Just listen. Set aside right and wrong. Listen as one human to another.

You might ask: What are you really, really, really afraid of? What is the change you would like to see in the world? Why?

Most of the time, I bet you’ll learn that you’re talking to another human. Not an idiot, not a tree-hugging liberal, not a greedy capitalist, not a psychopath … another human, who has similar fears and hopes that you do.

Instead of debates, I’d rather have listening sessions, where politicians are evaluated on their ability to listen to their opponent and articulate what the other person is saying. That’s the kind of revolution I’m looking for.

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