For months, our Episcopal church, led by our funny, thought-provoking, spiritual priest, Debra has been invited to participate in an after-worship exercise called "For God's Sake, Listen!" Put the emphasis wherever you wish, but the goal has been to simply engage in learning how to listen to each other. Each group (of 4 -6 people) has nominated a facilitator (I've done it for my group several times) and we have engaged in topics such as K-Mart, coffee (seemingly controversial, right----you'd be surprised) and then beginning to dip our toe into content such as "homelessness", "healthcare", and others. The format is pretty straightforward but "strict" in the sense that it has quite a structure:
1. Write your own thoughts, feelings, beliefs, wonderings about the topic for seven minutes (as a writer, these minutes fly by for me; for others, the last 5 -6 are agonizing)
2. The person to the facilitator's left begins by sharing their three most important thoughts or feelings they want to share with the group without interruption or cross-talk from any other member of the group (that's where the facilitator earns their keep---they have to remind people that it is not time to jump in with their rebuttal but only to listen)
3. The process continues until everyone has a chance to share.
4. The facilitator (after sharing their own thoughts) then invites discussion. For instance, did someone say something that sparked something within you? That process takes place for about 5 minutes, at which time each group is tasked to come to consensus on the top three points they want to share with the larger group (all other groups).
5. We go around the room, noting similarities and differences, and you can see people shaking their heads in disagreement, nodding in agreement, and folding their arms (I have no judgment on why people do this----are they cold or is their cheese being moved too much?)
6. The session ends with us deciding on a topic on which to discuss for the next time (next month) by voting.
The purpose? Learning how to listen without reproach or rebuttal or hard feelings. After all, we ARE still IN the church. ;)
This weekend, our vestry (governing body), of which I am a member) held a retreat to talk about the past year and create goals for the following year, with the overarching goal of bonding with one another in Christ. We celebrated Eucharist together, told stories of our faith, and shared in meals in between the WORK we needed to complete. Our initial task was to listen to the first 25 minutes of this recording of Richard Rohr, talking about Spirituality in Leadership , which I invite you to do now. What struck me so vividly is his talk about dual and non-dual thinking. It seems that when we engage in topics of politics, specifically (even within family---sometimes especially within family), we end up with this dualistic speaking and thinking. In other words, I'm going to wait until you finish what you have to say simply to jump in and embolden my stance and dig in my heels. When do we actually listen, "for God's sake"? Dave and I, even after 27 years of a truly blessed marriage, differ on various topics. We have come to a decision that, for the sake of our continued cherishing of our relationship, we will share our thoughts on "hot topics" but end the conversation by saying, "You know, you might be right about that?" It has served us well for the last 10 -15 years, truly. Why can't we all do that? We disagree between unions and managers; Republicans versus Democrats; public school and charter school believers; United Airlines and American Airlines; whether or not homeless people should get up and go to work or not; wall or no wall; and the hits just keep coming, right? Why must we dig in our heels even stronger about the way we feel when, with conversation that is respectful and dignified, we might find out we aren't that very far apart?
Just for today, I invite you to think about ways you might use that structured form of conversation with family or friends (or even in the workplace) to begin talking something seemingly non-controversial like "What are true learning outcomes for students in schools?" (be careful-----this has become VERY controversial in groups I have been in; without a protocol, it could get UGLY!).
Let me know your thoughts!