Deep Listening

Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Three weeks ago today I learned the result of the U.S. Presidential election.  I was devastated.  My candidate had lost, and to someone I thought was dangerous for my country and the world.

My stomach in knots, I talked with a friend and had a good cry.  I turned to wise leaders for a way forward.  Still wrestling with my emotions, I sought words of guidance and hope.

I found those words of guidance and hope in several places: Constance Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Warren, Cynthia Bourgeault, and a colleague at work.  While the importance of standing up for those who are vulnerable in this present climate was reinforced, I also learned the importance of listening.  And I learned the importance of humility.

For the past three weeks, I have been seeking to live into this wisdom.  It’s harder than I thought it would be. It’s hard to listen.  It’s hard to see self-righteousness in myself, and to let it go.  It’s hard to stand up for what I believe in the face of opposition.

The words of Steve Garnaas-Holmes resonate with me, as he reflects on how to turn swords into plowshares post-election:

“I bear them into conversations, my swords.
I hide them in my dark.
I launch them at the news, these spears.

Find them among me, God of Peace. Take them:
my bitterness, my defensiveness, my need to win.
Find the hidden swords, the secret spears I cling to.

Make them red hot in the furnace of your forgiveness.
Hold them in the tongs of your truth.
Beat them with the hammer of your love.

Take the hurt I mean to project, the defeat I wish others.
Free me of the swagger of hurtfulness.
Bend my righteous little swords into tools of life.

Let me stand before enemies with pure love,
prepared to break soil, to prune branches,
to do the hard work of growing peace.

For I will need stout tools to work this rough land well,
to bring fruits of justice out of this rocky earth,
to tend the muscular trees of mercy.”

The diversity in our world is a gift.  We see it in nature.  Can we see it in one another?  Because of our diversity of experiences, we can learn from one another.  As Quakers believe, no one person holds the entirety of truth.  Each person holds part of the truth, and we must listen to one another to allow the entire truth to emerge. In a diverse nation, different people experience life differently, and these life experiences shape political viewpoints.  Can we get beneath the political views to hear one another’s experiences?  Can I ask others, regardless of their political views, “What were your hopes when you voted for the candidate of your choice?  What are your hopes now?  What were your fears, and what are your fears now?”   And once I ask, can I listen deeply, really listen with curiosity, to the heart of the person speaking to me?

I know that there is much for me to learn in the weeks and months and four years ahead.  And, more importantly, there is much for me to practice.  John Woolman, an eighteenth-century American Quaker, serves as a role model for me here.  As Woolman traveled the American colonies speaking out against slavery, he both stood strong in his beliefs and at the same time listened respectfully to others’ points of view.  He exhibited both great strength and great humility.  How can I go deep and find that place of spiritual grounding that allows me to practice both strength and humility in these perilous times?

7 Responses to “Deep Listening”


  1. 1 Tom Heuerman November 30, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    Well said. I too felt deep angst and have been doing self-examination while seeking to understand good people who voted so wrongly, in my opinion. My anxiety runs deep. I’d like to run and hide and live out my life in peace. But that is not my nature. On my spiritual journey for many decades now, I’ve learned to find courage in my purpose and values and to walk into the anxiety and stay true to my values, purpose and dreams for America and the world. Now is a time for spiritual warriors. Travel safely.

    • 2 Marilyn George November 30, 2016 at 8:44 pm

      What margie said was right. We all see things differently. Even people who serve God. And to ask for the negative things to be removed from your tbinking is good. To reach out in kindness is good. Its hard to let go of human pride wben we tbink we are right. If anthing comes out of this it will show who we really are not who we profess to be

  2. 3 Richard Bailly (@RitchieVan44) November 30, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    A quote from a Beatle’s song: “Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be. There will be an answer; let it be.”

  3. 4 Gerry Kelliher November 30, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    Brilliantly articulated. Too often we allow our own fears and perceptions close our ears and filter our lens, so that we miss the common ground and humanity of those who disagree with us on some issues. It is important that the messages of liberation, equality and fraternity be seen with a wider more open heart, recognizing the human who is dis-agreeing with us while still holding true to the values of societal caring in its widest global and future generational .
    Thanks and keep up the good work.

  4. 5 Marilyn george November 30, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    When Obama won, i was unsure as to how be would lead. I did not agree with his policies. However i wanted to see what he would do. I was very disapointed in the way be took our country making decisions we tbe people didnt agree with and putting American lives at great risk. But i know the democratic process allows for Americans to speak every four years. I too was devastated when he beat a good man as Romney. However there was a respect that i had and i bit my tongue many times to keep peace. I hope for a change from this Angry group that dont bite their tongues but spew hatred because their desire was not met. If we can find commonality. Thats even better than just listening. Its saying i hear you, i respect you. And im doing something good with you. Even in our differences. We can all be builders. But only if we choose to

  5. 6 susienallen December 1, 2016 at 11:51 am

    Oh my Margaret. I so appreciate your honesty-in the struggle and in the resolve going forward. There is so much to learn and I am deeply grateful to you and spiritual community who hold one another in these challenging times-to listen, to reflect, to be silent, and reflect again. Together we will make space for light to shine.

  6. 7 Balboni CeCe December 4, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Well done, Margaret. It is so good to be invited to enjoy the diversity revealed in Nature and recognize ourselves and neighbors in it. Then the next step, to recognize the diverse fears and hopes within ourselves and those we meet. Thanks for making me a better listener and after that, a more frank speaker.


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