My Word Of The Year

Nancy Gibbs

Reading by Liz Helgesen (Download file)

Awakin FeatureMy word of the year is listen.

It’s one of those words whose meaning is in its music. Listen is a quiet word, that half swallowed L and diffident I and softly hissing S. It defies the clamorous words it absorbs, the words that have defined this year, the shouts and roars, the bray and bluster. Listening is hard when the sounds around us grow mean and ugly.

And listening takes particular courage in divisive times. 

“Courage is not just about standing up for what you believe,” Doug Elmendorf tells his students at Harvard. “Sometimes courage is about sitting down and listening to what you may not initially believe.”

Which is not to say that if we all just listened more, our wounds would heal and our conflicts end. Nor does it mean abandoning our values; it’s a strategic reminder of the value of humility. “It’s always wise to seek the truth in our opponents’ error, and the error in our own truth,” theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said. Listening, closely and bravely, to an opposing view deepens our insight and sharpens our arguments—especially in our public life.

It’s long past time that we quiet our animal spirits. Our fierce public battles, political fights that have infected our friendships and family, have degraded our discourse, defaced institutions, disturbed our peace. I grew up in Quaker schools, which included regular silent meetings. This did not come naturally to nine-year-olds. But I found then, and need to be reminded now, that we can’t hear the soft, sane voice inside us if we’re talking all the time, and certainly not if we’re shouting.

Instead, let’s listen. Invite surprise. Invest in subtlety. And surrender to silence once in a while.

 

Nancy Gibbs is a visiting professor at Harvard Kennedy School; and former Editor in Chief at TIME. Excerpt above from here.

Seed questions for reflection: What do you make of seeking 'the truth in our opponents’ error, and the error in our own truth?' Can you tell a personal story of a time you were able to deepen your insight by listening, closely and bravely, to an opposing view? What helps you to invite surprise into your life?

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6 Previous Reflections:

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    On Jan 1, 2019 Scott Ofsdahl wrote:

    If you re-arrange the letters of the word "listen"...these same letters spell the English word "silent."  A good way to remember a key aspect to listening.


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    On Jan 1, 2019 Gretchen TenBrook wrote:

     Thank you so much for bringing to our attention the importance of listening. It reminds me of the value of listening not only with our ears, but also with our body language, our facial expressions, our minds, our hearts, and our overall attentive yet noninvasive presence. To be and do this feels like a practice and artform whose ultimate gift is to create a safe space for another to speak and to be heard, which is to be seen and known. I'm not sure we can give or receive much greater a gift than that. To listen so wholeheartedly requires the discipline to withold one's own opinions, solutions and answers, to consider those of another, and to dwell in the space of uknowning inbetween where the two meet and often begin a new and much needed conversation - with or without words. New dialogues born out of listening! Count me in! Thank you again for the great post and inspiration for the New Year!


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    On Jan 1, 2019 melanie wrote:

     "It’s long past time that we quiet our animal spirits."  In my truth, it is those very spirits that humble us and help us to listen, to all that is around AND within us.  It is long past time that we call all that we wish to silence and separate from, "animal".  It is the very act of silencing that prevents true hearing because while we are busy telling ourselves that our inner "animal" must listen, that we are not actually listening.  What I have discovered is that it is precisely my inner soft animal spirit that is most intrinsically connected with the common needs of all beings, no matter the form their bodies or minds present.  And until I fully feel that connection to our common needs, I am only hearing the story I have about the story I hear. 


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    On Dec 29, 2018 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
     When I listen to my opponents' error, I hear something I need to hear and unserstand about my position.This kind of listening arises in me when I let go of my shouts and roars about my position and be really quiet. When I do this I can see the truth of my error, the short coming in my own position. I hear my own soft inner voice of wisdom and that lets me see my shortcoming, the onesidedness and rigidity of my position. And this is the truth I need to see in my position. Seeing the truth in the error on both sides with humilty creates a bridge of genuine understanding, cooperation and collaberation.This way of dailoging is more imporatnt in divisive times we live in. It is vitally important for sanity to prevail. This morning we had a rather heated discourse about how to do greater good. On one side three of us held a firm and strong position about doing greater good by living a simple life in moderation so that we can spend our precious time for reaching out and serving others.... [View Full Comment]

     When I listen to my opponents' error, I hear something I need to hear and unserstand about my position.This kind of listening arises in me when I let go of my shouts and roars about my position and be really quiet. When I do this I can see the truth of my error, the short coming in my own position. I hear my own soft inner voice of wisdom and that lets me see my shortcoming, the onesidedness and rigidity of my position. And this is the truth I need to see in my position. Seeing the truth in the error on both sides with humilty creates a bridge of genuine understanding, cooperation and collaberation.This way of dailoging is more imporatnt in divisive times we live in. It is vitally important for sanity to prevail.

    This morning we had a rather heated discourse about how to do greater good. On one side three of us held a firm and strong position about doing greater good by living a simple life in moderation so that we can spend our precious time for reaching out and serving others. Our opponents held a position of making more money and donating a portion of thier money without reaching out and that way saving time for making more money. It requred a lot of courage, humilty, open- mindedeness, emapthy and patience for both sides to deeply listen, understand and accept each other's poit of view. This way of talking and listening helped all of us to have a better and deeper understanding and insight about our personal position and others' poistions on this very important issue. Surrendering to silence and keeping our minds and hearts open brought us closer to each other and that way enriched our relationships.

    May we be more humble, quiet, open-minded, open-hearted and listen deeply and empatically to our opponents to buld brdiges and not huge walls. Let us look for common ground for peace and for serving the humanity at large!
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave

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    On Dec 29, 2018 david doane wrote:
     What I see as error, which is what someone holds that is different than what I believe, has truth in it, and what I consider truth, which is what I believe, contains error.  By being open and listening, I hear what is being said by the other and by myself instead of hearing my thinking, my preconceived notions and judgments, my assumptions and prejudices, my expectations and predictions, and I can learn, modify my position, and grow.  When I listened to my son-in-law's political viewpoint, which is different than my own, I heard information some of which was new and confusing, and it resulted in expanding my understanding.  What helps me invite surprise into my life is knowing that surprise can be a great teacher.  Surprise can catch me off guard, throw a wrench into my usual thinking, help me to see outside the box, knock me out of my lockstep, and trigger insight and learning, all of which is exciting and enliviening, so I invite surprise into my life. ... [View Full Comment]

     What I see as error, which is what someone holds that is different than what I believe, has truth in it, and what I consider truth, which is what I believe, contains error.  By being open and listening, I hear what is being said by the other and by myself instead of hearing my thinking, my preconceived notions and judgments, my assumptions and prejudices, my expectations and predictions, and I can learn, modify my position, and grow.  When I listened to my son-in-law's political viewpoint, which is different than my own, I heard information some of which was new and confusing, and it resulted in expanding my understanding.  What helps me invite surprise into my life is knowing that surprise can be a great teacher.  Surprise can catch me off guard, throw a wrench into my usual thinking, help me to see outside the box, knock me out of my lockstep, and trigger insight and learning, all of which is exciting and enliviening, so I invite surprise into my life. 

    [Hide Full Comment]

    1 reply: Jo | Post Your Reply

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