Raising the Dialogue, Part 1: Listening Past Words

For some time now, it’s felt to many of us as though public dialogue has devolved into different sides shielding themselves behind stone walls while lobbing opinions at one another. Given that human history is a centuries-long, unbroken chain of cause and effect, any attempts we might make to find the beginning of this tendency is doomed to be overly reductive.

Still, we long to blame because while blame never fixes (or even helps) a situation, we get a short-term burst of ease from getting to place the responsibility away from ourselves. You did this; I’m powerless to fix your wrong.

We also long to not only be heard but to be convincing, particularly when our opinions feel so right and so consequential to us. If you don’t come to my way of thinking, all will be lost!

And so we lob our opinions with more umph. We decoupage them with clever memes and convincing data. We allow our pulses to rise and our hopes to plummet.

Rarely, indeed, do we remember the key component to being heard, the critical first step and second and third and on and on – the repetitive steps required to build the kind of trust and connection that opens ears and hearts and possibility.


Listening to the words being said, yes. And listening to the words beneath them, the words too frightening or uncomfortable to say. Listening to the inaccessible words, unknown even to the speaker. Listening through the lens of social and gender norms that constrict communication; listening through the ears of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed or that wise friend who always seems to lead with compassion – whoever inspires you toward better versions of yourself.

Listening past the problematic behaviors and outlandish conclusions to hear the shared, underlying murmurs of:

I’m afraid.


I’m afraid I won’t be able to feed my family.


I’m afraid I’ll cease to have value as a human being if I’m unable to do the work upon which I’ve based my sense of self, where I was taught to attach my sense of self.


I’m afraid I won’t be able to afford medication, chemo, surgery, my mom’s nursing care.


I’m afraid my mother will die, my children will die, I will die before my time.


I’m afraid of the world, culture, environment my kids are inheriting.

Listening while remembering that compassion does not require agreement or approval; we can (and often must) oppose a person’s actions or words even while we see the imperfect humanness beneath them.

This is how we live into and from our values. This is how we raise the dialogue.

At least, this is a piece of it. There’s another person who needs your listening ear; we’ll get to them next week.

Last week’s gatherings were intimate and filled with thoughtful connection; find the ones that work for you here. (I’ve even added the ability to copy them straight to your calendar.) The Chomp & Chat crew continues to connect and dialogue on Wednesdays, even as we’ve rounded the year-and-a-half mark since we first came together. A spot in The Bigger Badder Crew is yours for the taking.