Lately I have felt called to listen more deeply than I ever have.
Events of the past year -- the tensions in Ferguson, President Obama's immigration order, the gender conflicts expressed in #yesallwomen, the rise of the Islamic State -- have shown me how much I don't know about the issues central to our time. So I want to listen to people who might know.
I want to listen to African Americans' stories of driving while black, looking at police with suspicion, expecting injustice.
I want to listen to police officers talk about the world they face every day, and how they're trained to act in it.
I want to listen to everyone under 30, because they know what it is to be utterly immersed in the digital world that surrounds us all, and I don't.
I want to listen to women's accounts of the daily indignities and injustices they endure.
I want to listen to conservative Christians who see a society that once upheld their values slipping away.
I want to listen to young men whose life experience drove them to jihad.
I want to listen to the stories of undocumented immigrants, because I have no idea what they go through.
And by listen, I don't mean waiting impatiently for the other person to stop so I can have my say. I don't mean listening through the filter of every belief I've ever held. I mean listening that is deep, openhearted, and fully attentive, that strives to experience the other person as she is, to accurately hear what she says.
This kind of listening both expresses and feeds the "habits of the heart" that make us our best selves. It is a partner with love, because we cannot love others unless we know who they are, and we begin to know who they are when we listen. Listening shows humility -- a crystal-clear view of ourselves and our place in the universe -- because the act of listening is a confession that we don't know everything. Listening is self-denial in its healthiest form: a setting aside of ourselves, even if just for a few moments, to hear another human being.
Deep, openhearted listening is not easy. It requires practice. More than that, it requires a capacity for love, humility and other habits of the heart in our deepest selves.
Fortunately, we can all cultivate that capacity. People of faith and spirit have done so for millennia. And as we follow their lead, listening gradually becomes automatic. Rather than hostility or defensiveness, it becomes our first response.
What would happen in a world full of listeners?
When we listen openheartedly, we start to connect with others. Their stories make us realize that our issues are far more complex and nuanced than they first appear. At the same time, listening creates a bond between us, a level of trust that encourages us to address the issues together.
All of this makes me want to talk less and listen more. Now is a particularly good time to try it out and see what happens. A lot of people are waiting to be heard.