When our differing beliefs keep us from listening to each other

Here’s how to open our minds, hear what others have to say and try to understand each other in the election season.

This election season has been painful for everyone, whether you identify as blue or red. Clearly there is a divide across America that separates us from each other.

Even without the pandemic, family members and neighbors with opposing ideas about how to be good stewards of our country can’t comfortably sit at the same table. Political discussions quickly become angry, pointed and sometimes even hostile.

We are passionate about our beliefs, whatever they are. We have strongly held views about how to steer our nation through the 21st century. We are sure of what is right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust and what is true or false. This zeal makes it difficult to sit still, be quiet, empty our minds of our opinions, and truly listen to each other.

Instead, we lecture rather than listen.

I can be guilty of this when my wife and I argue about something we each feel strongly about. We are both opinionated, strong willed and, at times, stubborn. Standing on my soapbox, I can go on and on about why I’m right and she’s wrong, talking over her when she tries to get a word in edgewise. It’s not my most endearing trait. When Diane is speaking, I’m not listening, but instead, like an attorney at trial, I’m preparing my argument to the jury. Needless to say, not much is resolved.

But what does it mean to truly listen to each other? How do we open our minds, hear what others have to say and try to understand each other?

Set aside your own point of view. Just put your opinions on the back burner. They’re still there, simmering away, but hopefully on low. They aren’t lost or gone, but they’re in the background.

Quiet your mind. This is easier said than done. Imagine a walk in the woods or by the water. It’s early in the day and your senses are keen — there’s the sound of birds, wind against water, the smell of forest and earth, and the feeling of the air against your skin. As we walk, our thoughts slow. It can be very peaceful.

Slow your breath. Take an easy breath in, hold it for a beat, and then a long, slow breath out. Hold it for a beat and then repeat. Focus on what the other person is saying not on what you are thinking. Let your feelings settle.

Open your mind. Unscrew the lid that prevents new information from coming in. Let your mind be like a white sheet of paper, ready to receive what comes onto it.

Ask questions. Why do you think that is true? What might go wrong with that approach? Why is that important? Why do you think it will work? What do you mean? Could you explain that in greater depth? How do you know that information is correct?

Check your observations. Is this what you said? Is this what you meant? Did I get this correctly? Our own opinions and judgements, bubbling away in the background, can seep into what we hear. We can get it wrong. Make sure to get it right.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Our life experience influences our beliefs. Where, when and how we were raised and how we live now impacts our perceptions. Try to understand more about the person sharing their opinions with you.

Seek to understand. It’s not about trying to convince the other person of the error of their ways, their faulty assumptions or their misinterpretations of “the facts.” It’s about trying to truly understand, appreciate and acknowledge the views of others. When we do this, with an open mind, we feel closer and more connected to each other.

We may still see things differently. But we respect and honor each other.

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