When the Covid-19 pandemic started, I was in my last trimester with Yara, and I embraced the need to slow down. I couldn’t move so much anyways :).
The doubt I had about who is behind the pandemic and what are the ways governments deal with it was shoved down and pushed away by the need to be present and relaxed for the upcoming delivery.
Consciously and unconsciously I didn’t want to hear anything that would have taken me out of balance at that point in my life. I didn’t read what my friends sent me, I didn’t watch the videos and I even found ways to avoid seeing those friends. I was trying to protect myself, I wanted to stay relaxed. I wanted to keep my life as it was even with the new pandemic. I sensed the possibility of becoming anxious if I let myself dive deeply into the conspiracy rabbit-hole. I didn’t want to get a confirmation that there was evil in the world, this world I was somewhat guiltily bringing a new baby into. I avoided reading articles and talking to people that could open that anxiety Pandora’s box in me.
I don’t know if the various conspiracy theories are true or not. It’s not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about why I wasn’t open to looking at this, why I was avoiding that information and those people. And what it did to me.
Since we are all human beings and share similar emotional experiences, we can extract the essence from that example: I sensed danger to my emotional well being, therefore, I pushed away information. I did that by avoiding reading about it or talking to people who held strong opinions. I was avoiding the people that I normally love. That is how the deepest gaps in our society form.
So, why don’t people listen to facts?
People don’t listen to what you have to say and to your facts when they sense that their emotional well being might be at risk. When they sense danger. When they feel they might lose their peace of mind and become anxious. When they believe you’re about to take them out of their comfort zone. So they put their defences up. You can see it in their faces which becomes either dismissive, cynical or aggressive. And they attack with their own set of facts, which they believe as much as you do yours.
If you look inside yourself, you might be able to see that you do that too when they present their facts. You find it very hard to listen, you believe they are wrong, and it makes no sense for you to listen to what they have to say. You have lots of justification for that, you don’t want to waste your time and energy on “bulshit”. Sounds familiar? This is your defence mechanism. It’s the same as theirs, but with a different (and being my readers, likely better founded) set of facts and conclusions.
And so, one defence mechanism meets another defence mechanism and we get arguments, hate, distrust, avoidance and, indeed, war.
How can we get them to listen?
If you want them to listen, you have to be the one who listens first. And it’s going to be as hard for you to listen to them as it is for them to listen to you because you are going to be putting your own emotional well being at risk. You are going to expose yourself to potentially convincing arguments without setting up defences, without planning a response. You’re going to feel vulnerable, exposed, possibly lonely. Your ground might shake, and so may your hands. I do this for a living, trust me, it is not pleasant. But while it isn’t pleasant, it is exceedingly effective. If you really listen, and I’ll teach you how to do it in a moment, they will eventually run out of things to say. They will feel complete, and in feeling complete they will be open to your arguments. Even better, you will now understand their entire strategic arsenal of facts and arguments and will be able to respond effectively.
How can we listen well?
Begin the conversation by exposing your vulnerability.
“You know dad, I never really listened to you, and I’m sorry. This conflict we have is my fault too. I want to listen to you. I want to get to know you. Please be honest with me, tell me everything, I promise to listen this time.”
At this point, they are going to start talking and you are going to want to roll your eyes. Notice your internal reaction. Notice the need to react, to dismiss, to argue back rising within you. Notice yourself being triggered and planning a response. Notice, but keep your mouth shut and keep breathing. Because noticing what is happening within you is while listening to them make you a better listener.
Expect to feel overwhelmed by their energy, your resistance and the new information. That’s OK. You can ask for a moment to process what they’ve said so far.
“Dad, can you give me a moment, please? You’ve said a lot and I need to process it.”
This both gives you time to ground yourself and shows respect for them.
If they pause, don’t jump in, just ask if they have more to say on this. Do your best to avoid asking questions, because your questions will likely be loaded and ineffective.
Once they have fully expressed themselves, they’ll have the space to listen to you. You can now say your piece, or just give them a loving hug.