Building cultures of peace through compassionate listening

by Maureen St Clair

On Wednesday, 11 April 2018 Grenada joined the Global Free Listening Movement along with hundreds of people throughout the world pledging to listen to each other on this year’s Global Free Listening Day.

A small group of Grenadians took to the streets of Grenville and St George’s, our intention to consciously and compassionately listen to whoever wanted or needed to talk. We listened from our hearts without the intent to fix, advise, or react. And this is some of what we heard on the streets of Grenada: gratitude and praise for opportunities to speak what is in people’s minds and hearts; fears and concerns related to violence rising in our families, communities, and country; an appreciation for Grenada’s powerful sense of community in comparison to other parts of the world where ‘people moving fast, fast, fast’; grievances over people divided due to party politics; school children speaking of stress over upcoming exams; stories of chronic illnesses and pain overcome by strength and courage; frustration over cost of living and low paying jobs; laughter and joy over clean air and green spaces; fear of aging and a health care system with limited resources; and people requesting more opportunities for safe healing spaces to respectfully dialogue with one another for peaceful change in our country.

The fundamental premise of compassionate listening is that as human beings we all suffer and that every act of violence is another person’s suffering unheard and unrecognised. To listen compassionately is to accept and acknowledge the partial truths in everyone—particularly those we may not agree with. We learn to put aside our own positions and opinions and help speakers tell their story. We learn to stretch our capacity to be present to one another’s pain and suffering as well as one another’s joy and happiness.

We all share a universal need to be seen, heard, affirmed, validated. However a good majority of us do not have the skills, experience, knowledge, time or energy to listen actively and compassionately. Compassionate listening is not a passive process it is hard work and requires commitment and intention. Compassionate listening requires us to be centered within ourselves in order to notice our own judgements, our desire to argue or give advice. Compassionate listening requires the ability to ask questions that do not create defensiveness, a curiosity that cuts through judgement, and empathy that helps us realise that if I had this person’s life experience I may be thinking and behaving in the same way they are. When we listen with the intention of building empathy and understanding, we also quickly build trust, and possibilities emerge.

Compassionate listening is a means to building cultures of peace within our families, relationships, communities, countries and the world. May we find ways of extending ourselves to one another whether on the streets, in our classrooms, our families, workplaces and communities. May we have the courage and patience to put aside our own agendas, opinions and judgements and listen to those all around us. And may we commit to teaching this to our children, youths, teachers, politicians, doctors, nurses, police, social workers, and on and on…

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