Strong Listening that Goes Beyond Politeness

This Musing is drawn from some highlights from chapter 7 of my “Let’s Talk” book, titled “Planting Tiny Seeds of Redemptive Conversation.”

We should all aspire to practice politeness, which seems to be in short supply these days. But, in our increasingly tribalistic culture, being polite is not enough.

In a conversation with another person who strongly disagrees with me about a contentious issue, here is what happens too often. Out of my commitment to being polite, I agree up-front to not interrupt my conversation partner as she presents her position on the issue and her reasons for holding her position. But as I patiently wait for her to finish, my mind is racing as I think about what I am going to say when it is my turn to speak. I am practicing “week listening” in that I have no intention to rethinking my position in light of what I hear her saying.

In stark contrast, “strong listening” involves my listening for ways in which what I hear her saying could lead to my critically re-examining my own view. Such re-examination could help me to build a better case for my own view. But it could also help me to see that there are inadequacies in my view that need correction.

My expectation for “strong listening” is captured in the fourth guideline (below) in the set of “Guidelines for Respectful Conversation” that I now expect all conversation partners to agree to prior to my including them in my various Respectful Conversation initiatives.

  • I will try to listen well, providing each person with a welcoming space to express her perspective on the issue at hand.
  • I will seek to empathetically understand the reasons another person has for her perspective.
  • I will express my perspective and my reasons for holding that perspective with clarity and I conviction, but with a non-coercive style that invites conversation with a person who disagrees with me.
  • In my conversation with a person who disagrees with me, I will explore whether we can find some common ground by critically examining my own view in light of her contrary view and the reasons she has for her view.
  • Guided by the underlying values of humility, courage, patience, and love, when we cannot find common ground, I will always engage the person who disagrees with me in a way that demonstrates respect and concern for her well-being and does not foreclose the possibility of future conversations.

As my next musing will reveal, it is rare to find persons who give evidence of embracing my fourth guideline by combining both passionate commitment to their own beliefs and openness to a possible need to correct their present beliefs in light of “strong listening” to the contrary beliefs of others; which reflects a failure to embrace the Christian value of humility.

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Forthcoming Book

As of July 31, our ecumenical conversation on what highly regarded representatives of twelve Christian traditions believe worshippers in their traditions mean when they aspire to be “followers of Jesus” has been completed. One of our conversation partners (CPs), Randall Balmer of Dartmouth College, my very helpful consultant for this project, concluded that “the year-long conversation was a smashing success.”

As indicated in the “Overview” document that can be accessed below, the next step for this project is to capture the highlights of this conversation in a book that is tentatively titled “Following Jesus: Perspectives from Twelve Christian Traditions.”  A first draft of this book is close to completion.

My current plan is to submit a Book Proposal to one or more potential Christian publishing houses by early October. I will let readers of this website know the results of this publishing exploration.

Harold Heie

Twelve Month Electronic Conversation starting on August 1, 2021

Following Jesus: Perspectives from Diverse Christian Traditions

Moderator: Harold Heie

Twelve Month Agenda

Leading Question for the first of the month (Directed to the conversation partner for the tradition being featured for the month)

What are the various views of those who worship in your tradition as to what it means to “follow Jesus” and what is the primary view?

Leading Question for the 15th of the month postings (Directed to the other eleven conversation partners)

What major agreements and disagreements do you have with the views expressed in the posting of the conversation partner who submitted the first of the month posting as to what it means to “follow Jesus,” and what have you learned from that posting that has the potential to enrich, or possibly provide a corrective, to the primary view of those who worship in your tradition as to what it means to “follow Jesus?”

Leading Question for the final day of the month posting (Directed to the conversation partner being featured for the month)

As you review the eleven 15th of the month postings from the other conversation partners, what were the main things you learned from other traditions that will be helpful to those who worship in your tradition as they seek to faithfully follow Jesus into the future

Readers of this website can participate in this conversation by submitting a comment (Reply) at the bottom of any posting (see the “Comment Policy” below).