‘Peace requires listening’ was my first gift of 2011, and has served me well during conversations and journeys at home and abroad. Harry Smith included this challenge during the New Year’s Eve Peace Concert at NYC’s St. John the Divine Church. Listening, the greatest communication challenge we face, becomes a silent perpetrator of hate and fear in its absence. Grandiose, yes. My question: how many interpersonal wars are fought over the scarcity of this precious resource? And don’t all wars really start with one person not listening?
Listening ties to identity, as I’ve begun to realize everything does! Perhaps peace is only possible when identity is known
and secure. After WW I and the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Hungary was a sliver of its former self. Hungarian’s sense of identity was shriveled. Result? The Jews were blamed (they had to blame someone) and Anti-
Locally, an NPR story linked home ownership, or lack thereof, with personal identity. For those of us who are un- or under-employed, our personal identity is likely to be queasy and our internal peace threatened. When peace is threatened, so is listening.
Listening heals wounds by acknowledging identity, of an individual or a group. Do you think there is a tie to hate crimes, genocides, Holocausts: if there is no acknowledgement of the other’s identity? And this acknowledgement – or lack there-of ties back to the question of what causes hate crimes, genocides, and Holocausts. IF everyone felt listened to about who they are, would they feel more secure, more peaceful? And if they were more secure, would they be less fearful and less threatened and less threatening?
Sometimes I think everything is about listening . Especially difficult these days with the competition for ear-time.
Listening is without bias, malicious intent, or ego-centrism. Lara, a young Finn from my Vilna hostel said she only shares her deepest thoughts and feelings with fellow travelers. She felt Finns are conservative and judgemental. This was in direct contrast with her friend (Finnish), an extrovert with no difficulty sharing any thought, with anyone. Lara said strangers listened openly allowing her to be more open and honest. This Paulo Coelho quote, reminds me of Lara’s feelings:
‘When someone sees the same person every day…they wind up becoming a part of someone’s life. And then they want that person to change. If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. (The Alchemist)
Another example was received from my (Michigan) cousin Terry via cousin Audrey. Terry, a Palestinian and President of the American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine. Her commentary in the Detroit Free Press is in response to Newt Gingrich’s comment that ‘Palestine is an invented people’. Gingrich is apparently not listening to history or much of anything else. Worse, this lack of acknowledging a people’s identity threatens peace – global peace. Here is the link to Terry’s article: http://www.freep.com/article/20111227/OPINION05/111227003/Guest-commentary-Gingrich-s-claim-Palestinians-invented-displays-pandering-style-foreign-policy?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|Opinion
The ability to know enough to explain one’s identity was a key opinion from Andrea in Budapest (as a Jew) and from Sarah in Berlin (a Korean American). Statements like Gingrich’s demonstrates danger: people listen for what they want to hear and ‘this’ statement, if accepted, incites bad beliefs and attitudes. Andrea and Sarah highlighted importance in listening to oneself – and listening to without bias.
My conversational journey was about listening and being a ‘story listener’. Listening leads to connecting, to understanding – to peace. Ask pointed questions and people will tell you what they think you want to hear. Listen – be silent – and people will tell you what they want you to know. Thanks Mr. Smith for last year’s challenge turned perfect gift.
Wishing everyone a 2012 of realized identity and giving and receiving the gift of listening!