Reader comment on Paula Underwood's passage ...

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    On Sep 27, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

    I find it important to think of volition when engaging in a listening conversation. We all get non-verbal signals all the time. We can choose to process it from a space of expectation, which i a great impurity of the mind. I have found that conversations that have expectations in it go in undesirable directions. On the other hand, we can choose to process the signals from a space of freedom and compassion, with a great volition of goodwill for the other person. When this happens, the members of the conversation open up into a deeper space of listening, where a lot is shared and co-created. These are the unforgettable conversations of our life.

    I have a story to illustrate the movement of volition from expectation to freedom. Some weeks back, I was TA'ing a class on Ethics, which I greatly admire. The class was being offered to executives for the very first time. My job was to socialize during break-time and check that people were getting value from the class. If anyone had issues, I would bring them up with the organizers of the class so they could be addressed before the class was over.

    In the break, I walked over to a group of smiling people thinking I'd get some positive feedback. I asked, "So, how's the class going for you?" A gentleman who was smilingly sipping his tea, looked at me with a deadpan expression. His smile vanished, eyes narrowed, shoulder tensed up, face contracted and I felt a big amount of negativity. Then, he spoke, "I don't know how this class can get any worse." He had an issue with the fact that the class was being taped and he'd just made a comment that he was afraid would get him into trouble. He multiplied the negativity from this experience and found everything else in the class to be useless - and started criticizing the professor, whom I respect very deeply.

    I tried telling him that I would convey this and see what we can do, but he should try to learn as much as he could from this point on. But there was an impurity in my mind - I was a little offended that he had criticized the professor. Although there was a volition in my mind that he should get the most from the class, it was now reduced. Just as I'd read him, he too read me, and called me out, "You are being defensive."

    Over the next session, I gave the feedback about the taping. The professor thought this was a great opportunity to practice what we were teaching - telling the whole truth, and suggested the organizers lead a discussion and tell the students what their own limitations were, and brainstorm a solution. While the brainstorm was ongoing, I kept giving compassion to all. I could feel the anger in the room subsiding. Reflecting on it later, I think what really happened was that the impurity in my mind was subsiding - the expectation that all should respect my professor. Instead, I cared completely for the students understanding the class material.

    Thereafter, we went to lunch, and as luck would have it, I was on the same table as the morning friend. On getting a question from another participant on the goals of the class, I took the opportunity and explained, "This class is very similar to meditation. In meditation, we look at our own bad habits, and only then are we able to correct it. Do you guys do meditation?" One nodded, but my morning friend said no. I continued, "If you do, you will quickly become sensitive about your habits. For instance, when you were giving me feedback in the morning, I noticed how your face changed, how your shoulders tensed up, and how much you were boiling inside. It should have just been about giving me the feedback and continuing to enjoy the class to the fullest. Why should you let your enjoyment depend on our shortcomings? Why not continue to derive the fullest value from this point on?"

    He replied with a "Hmm." After a pause, he said, "You are absolutely right." and went silent. And we both listened to each other in a very different way.




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