are you listening ...?

Humour is a wonderful resource – it helps us to cope better with our vulnerability as mortals.

However, we each have an extremely powerful resource and skill that is desperately needed by every one of us in our society right now, namely … really hearing one another deeply.

Why even bother to listen to others when there is so much polarisation, prejudice and misunderstanding swirling around?

It is very tempting to withdraw and to give up trying to hear and be heard, much less understood, or even affirmed in our particular perspectives or concerns.

Yet, we know acutely that withdrawal from authentic relationship is not the answer. The lockdowns have brought that truth into sharp focus!

In fact, most of us understand that the real growth, and especially transformation, can only happen when we genuinely hear and start to see a perspective that is radically different to our own. But, it can be extremely tough to listen deeply to those who hold views which are offensive, or who communicate their views aggressively, making one feel fully justified in withdrawing …


I was encouraged by an article by Richard Rohr, in which he quotes the Sikh activist, Valarie Kaur’s thoughts on “Deep Listening”.

Valarie Kaur understands the complicated nature of listening to those we see as our religious, cultural, or political “opponents”, and the huge emotional toll that it takes:  

“It turns out it is extremely difficult to draw close to someone you find absolutely abhorrent. How do we listen to someone when their beliefs are disgusting? Or enraging? Or terrifying? … An invisible wall forms between us and them, a chasm that seems impossible to cross. We don’t even know why we should try to cross it … In these moments, we can choose to remember that the goal of listening is not to feel empathy for our opponents, or validate their ideas, or even change their mind in the moment. Our goal is to understand them …”

I just love her brutal honesty!   In order to deal with such a tough challenge, it helps greatly to call it exactly what it actually is.

Valarie Kaur made a personal commitment to listen to those with whom she disagrees strongly. To be able to achieve this, she has adopted specific mindsets and practices:  

  • “Deep listening is an act of surrender. We risk being changed by what we hear.”
  • “When I really want to hear another person’s story, I try to leave my preconceptions at the door and draw close to their telling.”
  • “I am always partially listening to the thoughts in my own head when others are speaking, so I consciously quiet my thoughts and begin to listen with my senses …”
  • “The most critical part of listening is asking what is at stake for the other person? I try to understand what matters to them, not what I think matters.”
  • “Sometimes I start to lose myself in their story … When the story is done, we must return to our skin, our own worldview, and notice how we have been changed by our visit.”

And, when the going gets particularly tough:

“When listening gets hard, I focus on taking the next breath.

I pay attention to sensations in my body: heat, clenching, and constriction.

I feel the ground beneath my feet.

Am I safe?

If so, I stay and slow my breath again, quiet my mind, and release the pressure that pushes me to defend my position.

I try to wonder about this person’s story and the possible wound in them.

I think of an earnest question and try to stay curious long enough to be changed by what I hear.

Maybe, just maybe, my opponent will begin to wonder about me in return, ask me questions, and listen to my story.

Maybe their views will start to break apart and new horizons will open in the process …

Then again, maybe not.

It doesn’t matter, as long as the primary goal of listening is to deepen my own understanding.

Listening does not grant the other side legitimacy. It grants them humanity – and preserves our own.”

This is a really tough challenge! But, right now the world needs a whole lot more great listeners?!


Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation of 26th July 2022, “Courageous Listening”

Valarie Kaur, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love (New York: One World, 2020), 143–144, 156, 157.

Alan Ter Morshuizen Life Architect