Learning to understand people. A Zen perspective
We are hearing automatically but are we listening?
How often do you try to understand people by listening to them actively? Most of us don’t.
In fact, quite often and based on the power of our ego gravity we usually decide not to consider another point of view, not to listen and even we will argue regardless. When we disagree strongly with someone, we want to convince that we are on the right side and she/he is – by definition- on the wrong one.
Therefore there is no point to know their point of view or eventually to compromise because “I am right” and “the other is wrong”. It is almost impossible to get rid-off this mind-set. Remember this little story:
“How can I get on the other side of the river where you are standing”?
“ You are already on the other side.”
The second point is the following: refusing to argue and defend your point-of- view can be perceived, subconsciously as being a coward. We need to have the last word or we will be perceived as weak.
Furthermore we may deceive ourselves by refusing to learn something from someone else when the opportunity is there..
“My way or highway” is feeding initially our ego but this attitude is and will be very detrimental to both parties sooner or later since its repetition has cumulative effects.
What to do?
Obviously, no one must remain passive when facing personal attack. This extreme situation is not part of this discussion. On the same token, defending your opinion and values when they are absolutely right and arguing against those who are totally wrong such as racism and xenophobia is also OK. We do have a moral duty.
Beside these two extremes, being receptive and understanding others is really not so difficult.
Simply wanting to be receptive to someone is 90% of the battle. When we make this genuine effort to do so on a routine basis, it becomes quite easy. However, it does take practice to master this skill.
Beside the two extremes already mentioned , we need to get good at:
- Accepting that our views, values, belief and opinion are just…ours and zillions of other views, belief and opinion should be considered with the exception of the totally wrong ones..
- Listening without been stuck by a mind-set with frozen opinion, feelings and judgment.
- Putting ourselves in someone’s shoes by trying to understand her/his behavior based on her/his views, opinion, agenda and expectations without initial judging.
Benefits of such open minded approach:
Learning to listen and understand people regardless your own point of view will make a big difference to your lives and the life of others. By becoming more considerate you will forge closer relationships. Furthermore, you are less liable to get hurt, because you can understand better people’s point of view and behavior.
We should devote more attention in achieving an open mind attitude, sort of “ why not mind”.
If we ever find ourselves deviating from it, we should be immediately correct ourselves.
The opposite strategy“ My way, my view or else” produces only a very short-term ego booster.
Beside this short-term victory, it may cause suffering and ongoing conflicts in our life, and the life of others.
Zen practice advises every one to be receptive and more considerate to others.
Having different opinion and different beliefs is a great opportunity to test your knowledge, values, opinion, behavior and consideration to others. It is not the occasion to boost the ego by arguing automatically.
Thoughts to consider:
How often do you listen carefully to someone in order to understand her/his position?
When you disagree what do you do :1) an occasion to prove you are right or 2) the opportunity to learn?
Are you always looking to compromise even when you don’t have to?
When you decide to “shut-up”, do you feel coward?