Listening can be hard, in part because often it feels passive. That doesn’t feel natural these days, does it? To pause and not react during these difficult times, in which there are so many injustices to call out? Listening may look weak because it doesn’t appear active—like taking a stand or proclaiming a value. However, I believe that no matter who we are—writers, professionals, guides and leaders, family, or followers—listening and asking questions are the most crucial activities for us, especially now.

I do not mean that we should ignore or soothe anger at the inexcusable and at evil when we see it. Immediate wrong deserves immediate and appropriate correction.

For the long haul, if we really intend to create a story that has a good ending, we must FIRST curb our impulses to react. That creates the moment for us to genuinely ask, “Why does that person feel as they do, vote as they do, see the world as they do?” And to get true, possibly inconvenient, answers, we should have the courage to seek those from the people in pain, not from our unfortunately all-too-often self-selecting, self-validating virtual communities. We can’t solve our issues by beating one another down or canceling others out.

This is why listening can be fierce. It requires the will and focus to:

  • Curb our desires to immediately judge and react.
  • Respect that all people have reasons, usually based on their experiences and perspective, for why they think as they do—even if those reasons and their symptoms are repugnant to us.
  • Quiet our minds to allow questions to rise.
  • Imagine ways to address the underlying causes of pain that otherwise, sooner or later, can flare into chaos.

Before we believe or conclude, we must listen and ask. We must understand. This may be trite, but it is true.

Each day, as a society and a world, we are writing our Book of Us. Let’s not be stymied by writer’s block: the “I’m stuck” problem of not knowing where to go with the story we have created. Fierce listening can uncover the gaps and bad trajectories of our tale, and also where we have gone right. It can bring to light the assumptions that dog us, and some solutions to redirect our path forward. What is the ending that we want for our Book of Us? Before we answer and decide the plot, let’s listen.

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