One of my favorite places on the Internet is Humans of New York. A photographer in NY goes around and takes pictures of people and writes a sentence or paragraph of their story. It is full of vulnerability and empathy. The subjects are vulnerable when telling their stories and the photos show such empathy and kindness to the them that it amazes me.
The reason I bring this up is that it feels like we have become completely incapable of listening and hearing each other. In conversations everyone seems to focus on their next point in an argument that will never be won. So how has it become that we have become culturally unable to listen? That answer may be beyond me but what I do think it that listening requires both vulnerability and empathy. In order to engage in a true conversation we have to be vulnerable and we need the other person to respond with empathy. Empathy doesn’t mean you have to agree with what anyone says but it does mean you have to hear his or her feeling underneath and respond to it. When we have a conversation in which we are vulnerable and the other person responds with something other than empathy we often become defensive or even angry. They respond in kind and an argument ensues.
I am not sure how we move forward in communicating with vulnerability and empathy with those that differ from us so much. It is hard to be vulnerable when you feel like you are going to be attacked. I suspect that is the reason that many of us right now are in our safe places where we only converse with those who are like-minded. And that is okay. We need to feel safe. But perhaps when we push out of our safe places instead of having a discussion about current events we can ask the other person about themselves. What is their story? What are their fears and their goals and desires? Maybe if we can find a way to connect with them on that level then at some point in the future other conversations can happen. Maybe not. I admit to fluctuating between saying stay safe and try to connect with other that are different from you. I think that there is room for both.
What I do know is that when we can listen it makes a difference. And listening to people’s stories always matters.