Deep listening

Documentary filmmaker Valarie Kaur on listening:

“Deep listening is an act of surrender. We risk being changed by what we hear.

When I really want to hear another person’s story, I try to leave my preconceptions at the door and draw close to their telling. I am always partially listening to the thoughts in my own head when others are speaking, so I consciously quiet my thoughts and begin to listen with my senses.

Empathy is cognitive and emotional—to inhabit another person’s view of the world is to feel the world with them. But I also know that it’s okay if I don’t feel very much for them at all. I just need to feel safe enough to stay curious.

The most critical part of listening is asking what is at stake for the other person. I try to understand what matters to them, not what I think matters. Sometimes I start to lose myself in their story. As soon as I notice feeling unmoored, I try to pull myself back into my body, like returning home. As Hannah Arendt says,

‘One trains one’s imagination to go visiting.’ When the story is done, we must return to our skin, our own worldview, and notice how we have been changed by our visit.”

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