Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Listening

I have a friend who is facing some difficult questions and trying to make sense of relationships. Life never stands still and as much as we'd like to rewrite some of our story we can do little more than paint over the painful bits or reconcile the first chapters with a good ending. I don't know if she is trying to make sense of the twisted thinking that causes people to choose a life of mutual abuse, searching for a strand of reason in the dogmatic assertions of self and institutionally appointed leaders of religious groups or listening to the latter as a distraction from the former. But she seems to have an appetite for engaging with people with unorthodox, and sometimes destructive, takes on life.

I suspect she is hoping to put all her experiences together in a kind of patchwork, which may look chaotic at close quarters but makes some sense when viewed from a distance, in the third person as it were. My fear is that by exposing herself to people who are seeking to influence others, however removed she thinks she is, she is exposing herself to indoctrination or even antithesis whereby she is building a mind map filled of road blocks without signs giving alternative routes. Living a life of avoidance can be as damaging as living profligately.

We can't avoid meeting people who seek to impose their beliefs on us or who are so narrow minded that everything they say is a mantra but when in close proximity to them or their ranting we need to be sure our moral compass remains true. We should not avoid people who we disagree with, who hold opposing beliefs or whom we find difficult to argue with. We shouldn't dismiss, out of hand, personal attacks or critical opinions that are directed towards us. In truth there may be no justification for such an attack but there is probably an underlying reason, which may have nothing to do with us. We can be sure that our perception of self or others is never entirely accurate.

If we allow ourselves to double think every conversation and consider every point of view, afraid that we might be too dogmatic or opinionated, we will be so compliant that our opinion will count for nothing. In most circumstances to be 90% right is more than acceptable and probably too self-assured. We should all be 'of an opinion' but not be so opinionated that we cannot be corrected. We should all have beliefs that we vigorously defend against all but the most convincing of proofs. And cherished beliefs that we never surrender. We should seek to have an answer that can justify our position and a respect for the opinion of others even when they can't.

You always have the right to your opinion so long as others have a right to theirs. The right to speak carries with it the obligation to listen.

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