Krista Tippett, the host of the On Being podcast and author of Becoming Wise, speaks of “generous listening”—an attitude of open-hearted curiosity that says I want to understand what is important and meaningful for you. “The point of learning to speak together differently is learning to live together differently…” Tippett writes”…it’s a dance of words with arts of living.” The same dance we encourage in the therapy office is called for on a national and worldwide scale. Unfortunately this is not what I see happening in the discourse on the media, so similar to the adversarial communication many couples engage in.
Recently I watched Chris Cuomo trying to get Kellyanne Conway to answer a question, but she continually spoke over him, as Chris Matthews often does when questioning a conservative. Without a willingness to understand the reasons others feel strongly about a particular issue and acknowledging how they might feel that way, we see those on opposing sides pushing a point. And then we wonder why this nation feels so divided. Instead of dialogue founded in open-hearted curiosity, it’s a power struggle. It’s not, I want to understand what is important to you, but rather, I want you to see how wrong you are and establish how right I am.
In the therapy office we teach the skill of mirroring, or what Harville Hendrix calls Dialogue. One partner speaks about his/her experience, keeping the communication I-centered rather than blaming or accusatory. The listener says back what he/she heard without responding or interpreting, and then the speaker says whether he/she feels heard or whether the listener misinterpreted or missed some key element. They do this until the speaker is satisfied that the listener got what was said.
It’s not about agreeing, but simply about acknowledging and trying to understand how the other could feel the way they do. As Rumi wrote centuries ago, “Beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field, I’ll meet you there.” If only more of our leaders were willing to gather there.