Inner stability

I used to have a noisy, inner voice which made pleasant conversation difficult. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that voice was reinforcing my belief that I needed to perform some specific role during a conversation.

Back then, I was only having conversations that involved those directly present; the everyday sort of conversations everyone has. In conversations I always felt that I needed to do something. I always felt I needed to accomplish a specific something. But I couldn’t have described what that was, and it never even occurred to me to try. When I eventually did try to describe it I couldn’t find anything that was contributing positively to my conversations. I eventually realized the role I believed I needed to fill was about being right, being self-aggrandizing, being seen, being seen as an authority, etc.

Even back then I knew that listening was, is, and always will be, important. But those things I believed I was supposed to be doing in a conversation, and listening itself, were are odds.

To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, welcome, to accept.

~ Henri Nouwen

Nouwen perfectly explains why there was a time when I was no good at everyday conversations.

I’d heard, and continue to hear, so many tips about how to be a great listener. (My goal in writing down these Thoughts on Conversation is not to share tips, but rather to try to distill and share principles of conversation.) The tips I hear are invariably active things one should do. But I’ve never seen stated more clearly the advice about the principle of growing beyond my inner need to make my presence known.

Having no inner need absolves me of certain responsibilities, and that’s wonderful for everyone involved.

Generous listening is powered by curiosity, a virtue we can invite and nurture in ourselves to render it instinctive. It involves a kind of vulnerability— a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity. The listener wants to understand the humanity behind the words of the other, and patiently summons one’s own best self and one’s own best words and questions.

~ Krista Tippett

Freed from my self-assigned and destructive inner roles, I can focus on outer roles.

Once free, we can truly shine and contribute to the conversation before us, and frankly, to the betterment of humanity. We can serve our conversation partners by holding space for them and helping them directly in any number of ways. We can serve the others present in an everyday conversation (and our listeners if we’re podcasters).


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