Everyone has a story, and everyone comes into a story that was already going before they were conceived. You and I and anyone we perceive as different or opponents or enemies or allies or friends were born into a set of circumstances and cultural influences over which we and they had no control. That’s true of the person next door who voted for the wrong presidential candidate and true of the Hindu devotee washing himself in the Ganges River. No one chooses to be here – and no one chooses the story into which they’re born.
As time goes on, however, we become part of those stories even while they are a part of us. You know this is true of yourself. For the most part, you know how you got to where you are and what influenced your thinking. The chances are very good that you have a measure of pride regarding your history and heritage. There are a number of heros, beloved folks who had a profound influence on you whom you’ll love and whose memory you’ll cherish until the day you die. You have good reasons, richly supported by long history and your own careful thinking, that led you to the perspective you have. You’re not going to give all that up at the drop of a hat. It’s your story, and it’s sticking to you!
Now, wouldn’t this be true of others? Wouldn’t others also have stories which are likely to have depth, nuance, emotional energy, and are populated by beloved personal heros? If it hurts to have your rich story dismissed with a disparaging cliché, might you inflict similar hurt when you dismiss your opponents, no matter how clever your retort?
And, if others would gain a great deal by listening to your story, might you gain something from listening to theirs? After all, it’s THEIR story and it’s sticking to THEM!
This kind of listening, though, requires us to set aside our own agendas long enough to pay attention to the agenda of someone we might not immediately like or trust. It’s one of the hardest things about learning to listen because it calls for a measure of vulnerability. That’s where we’ll start the next post.