The Power of Listening

Listening is not easy. Although it may seem like a straightforward task, it is much harder than it appears. Standing near someone and nodding along while they speak their truth is relatively easy to do. However, truly listening to someone without letting your own judgements and opinions creep into the forefront of your mind is much more difficult to do--especially when you don’t agree with that person.

While listening is not an easy skill, it is an incredibly important one that we can all benefit from improving upon. The world we live in is more divided than ever before, and the fact that we have trouble listening to anyone with an alternate viewpoint from ours only pushes us further apart. Nothing productive will ever be accomplished if we continue to demonize and think ill of those who fall on the other side of the ideological spectrum.

Everyone’s opinions and beliefs are formed as a result of their distinct upbringing, experiences, environment, and relationships. It is therefore inevitable that humanity has a large amount of variety in terms of what people believe and stand for. While this is a logical conclusion, society as a whole still has a very hard time truly listening to anyone who disagrees with them. When most people are confronted with disagreement, they do not primarily think about or discuss the unique life experiences or environmental factors that have led the other person to develop such an opinion. Rather, being confronted with disagreement leads us to cease open-mindedly listening and instead focus on proving that we are morally or logically superior.  

Imagine how different the world would be if we responded to disagreements with a listening ear as opposed to a defensively closed mind. If we intentionally chose to view conflict as an opportunity to listen and learn something new about another person’s perspective, then humanity might move away from unnecessary polarization. Listening to why people believe the things they do pushes us to recognize the humanity in those on the other side of the political, philosophical, or ideological spectrum. Listening allows us to consider perspectives outside of the ones we have always held, which creates positive human growth and the widening of one’s worldview. Listening is ultimately an incredibly powerful tool that has the potential to minimize individuals’ gut reaction of defensiveness, while also helping to create a more understanding and connected society.

Listening to those with different opinions from your own does not mean that you have to change what you believe. Rather, it means you’re willing to take the time to understand why others feel the way they do about certain things. I understand that this is hard to do on an everyday basis, as there are many emotionally-driven and unjust issues that plague our world. Within these issues it is difficult not to demonize the side of the argument that is treating people unfairly or promoting hatred. However, it is also clear that these issues are the ones that need open minded listening the most. Social and institutional change cannot be created until both sides make the conscious decision to sit down and listen to each other. Then and only then will progress be possible.