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  • Kathryn Thomson

A social revolution

Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it. A.A. Milne


I think this may be the best description of the human predicament I've ever come across. And it sums up the reason I've started The Radical Listening Project. I'm convinced there is indeed a better way for all of us to engage with each other across political divides, if only we could stop for a moment and think of it. The answer lies in the phrase--stop for a moment.


Right now we are seeing so much vitriol, blaming, and shaming of others who hold political perspectives that oppose our own. This polarization has been powerfully amplified by social media, which has effectively sealed us into our respective ideological silos where own own views, beliefs, opinions, etc just echo back to us.


The bad news is that our brains simply haven't evolved to meet the complex challenges facing us globally and locally. We're still wired to perceive difference as a threat. Our limbic brains are particularly activated into the flight or flee response when it comes to political differences. But these divides and the way we are dealing with them are hurting us deeply and threatening our planet and our future.


There is good news though. We have the ability to consciously evolve our brains, to over ride our limbic, reflexive responses to political difference and practice what I call Radical Listening.


The word radical comes from the latin "radix" and it means the root of, the source, the essence. Listening implies giving heed, stretching one's attention toward. So when we practice this radical listening we are listening underneath the positions and points of view; we are listening into the essential humanity of the person in front of us and attending to the roots of what they care about, what they yearn for and what they fear.


To practice this kind of radical listening we first need to pay attention to what is happening inside of us. We need to notice when we get flooded with the impulse to defend our position or attack someone else's. We need to "stop for a moment" and choose a different response to political difference. And in choosing to listen, we create a space for something new to emerge. There really is another way...


So this is my invitation to you--find someone who has a very different world view than yours, someone much farther to the left or the right of the political spectrum, someone who is much older, or younger, someone from a different culture or background. Get curious about the differences. You are not agreeing or condoning, you are just listening. See if you can get underneath the position or view point into what they are actually worried about or what they are really hoping for.




I want to collect your stories (with your permission of course) and to track what actually happens when we engage in this kind of listening. In my next blog I'll share some stories of how radical listening has helped people soften, shift and even change their point of view. These are stories of hope for all of us. And all of us get to participate in this radical social experiment.


I'm looking forward to hearing from you!


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