The Art of Listening

The Art of Listening

AS I WAS SAYING……..

listening

“Can we talk?” – that phrase so famously and often asked by the late great Joan Rivers – actually had an implied second clause: “Will you listen?”

And thereby hangs the problem. Talk is cheap; listening is rare.

Want confirmation? Spend a few minutes at a bar, restaurant, night club or any other social gathering venue. The noise level is almost guaranteed to be too high for meaningful conversation. One partygoer (okay, a 34-year-old, several generations younger than this writer/partygoer) said, “it just doesn’t feel like fun until the music and vibes are loud.” Restaurants say the noise level is needed for “buzz,” even while admitting to repeated complaints about diners’ inability to carry on conversations. It’s more just talk and talking back.

Politicians, who tend to like to talk, go on a lot of “listening tours,” the word first becoming commonplace with Hillary Clinton’s notorious preparation for her New York senatorial bid. The theory seems to be that if potential voters feel heard they’ll vote for you. But the reality is that the politician is generally listening more carefully for what potential there is for his or her upcoming campaign/proposed legislation/planned left or right direction than for the pleas of the constituency. Not that some pleas aren’t heard – More jobs! Healthcare! Housing! – but is any serious listening going on, on the part of either politician or voter? Not often. Generalized messages get through – shouts on camera do count – but these tours are for selective listening.

Serious listening is not selective, and involves a degree of compassion. Even the Buddha knew that. In a recent article published in The Buddhadharma, Zenkei Blanche Hartman responds to a question from someone whose friend is considering an abortion. Among other comments, she says, “Have you listened carefully to your friend…” and “What is the most compassionate response in this situation?”

Imagine, if carefulness and compassion could happen in the listening process.

One of the most treasured conversations I had when just beginning work on Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade was with a beloved adult niece who is a lifelong conservative Christian. I suggested that she might have to pretend she didn’t know me when my book came out, but asked if she would listen to my own story that had motivated it. She did listen, quietly and thoughtfully, not once interrupting or showing negative reaction through her body language. When I finished, she had this to say:

“Well, you know, Frannie, I believe that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder. But I do feel that someone in your situation should have had better options.” We left it at that. I did not in any way change her mind about abortion – she still believes life begins at conception and abortion is murder – but she acknowledged that my story is unique, just as all of us in the reproductive rights movement believe that every woman’s story is unique. And most importantly, I felt heard.

Of the many deeply divided and overly politicized issues roiling the U.S. today, probably none is more desperately in need of civil dialog – reasoned talk and compassionate listening – than that of reproductive justice. Abortion foes term the issue “rights of the unborn.” Clearly you can’t give rights to an unborn fetus without creating injustice for the woman involved; the first, obvious obstacle to listening is in the fact that we can’t even hear each other’s subject line.

This writer recently talked about the listening business with Heather Buchheim, a Senior Manager with Exhale Pro-Voice. Buchheim is a very good listener. This may have something to do with the fact that Exhale is all about listening. Not lecturing or advising, not judging or admonishing – listening. They are also about talking, with their Storysharing and their National Pro-Voice Tour, but it is talking with attention to the listener. They hope for a culture change through much the same nonviolent ways the Buddha suggested, a change many progressive activists today still dream of: “sharing our stories and listening respectfully (because) feeling heard is crucial to our emotional wellbeing.”

Perhaps, if the decibel level were turned down a little, wellbeing might increase.

 

 

Abortion foes' 'Black Genocide' campaign draws one woman's thoughtful response

“Black children are an endangered species” the billboards proclaim — and they are having success. At the bottom of each huge sign is the sponsoring site: toomanyaborted.com, whose stated vision is “to eliminate abortion in America.” Eighty such billboards ran, as a campaign to attract more Black members to Georgia Right to Life; if the newly-concluded effort is deemed a success it is expected to be replicated in other states.

A thoughtful story ran in Sunday’s Women’s eNews, and was forwarded to this space by thoughtful reader Melissa. Set aside the valid physical, emotional, economic and other reasons for terminating a pregnancy, author/scholar Margaret Morganroth Gullette‘s personal story illustrates how a combination of factors can also lead to a considered choice.

Gullette tells of learning from her mother, who was then in her eighties, that she had had an illegal abortion when Gullette and her brother were very young. Unlike this writer, and thousands of others who risked (and often lost) their lives in barbaric procedures because a doctor willing to perform a sterile abortion could not be found, Gullette’s mother was able to have a safe abortion in Manhattan. Her parents were poor and her father’s employment uncertain in those 1940s days, Gullette writes, and felt it would be unfair to add a third child to the already struggling family.

I want to add something–temporality–often forgotten or undervalued in the abortion rights debate, even by pro-choice people.

It is hard to define “life” but one thing we know is that it involves time passing. Life time. If a woman who mothers lives after delivery, she is dedicating some hefty chunk of her life time to being responsible for her child. Usually, two decades. The right to decide whether to proceed with a pregnancy takes into account, and must take into account, that irrevocable pledge of responsibility.

It trivializes this life-course decision-making to suggest my mother’s choice was made on the basis of “convenience.” She decided to make my father’s life easier, to devote her maternal attention to her existing children and to study to further her own and our family’s joint life chances.

Everything proved her decision a correct one. She earned a teaching degree, then went to Bank Street College of Education and earned a master’s degree, got tenure, became a wonderful and happy first-grade teacher and earned a good and secure salary that rose every year.

She and my father together moved us up some inches into the lower middle class so that I could get a good education.

In her 80s, when my mother told me about this episode in her life, it was clear that she had never had any regrets.

The Right-to-Lifers would have us believe that no woman should have the right to terminate a pregnancy, at any moment after conception occurs. That unwanted, possibly unloved and uncared for children must be brought into the world no matter what.

Suppose — just suppose — they were to quit shrieking about eliminating a woman’s right to control her own body, and focus instead on that irrevocable pledge of responsibility. What a gift to the children of the world — black, white, brown, whatever color — that would be.

My Mother’s Abortion Improved All of Our Lives | Womens eNews.

Stupak vs. America – Health care bill has come down to this

It’s hard to figure what makes Bart Stupak tick, but my guess is: Ego. Power. Self- absorption. Conceit. For sure, it has nothing to do with concern for his fellow man, and less to do with concern for women. Representative Stupak is perfectly willing to sink a bill that would offer comfort, care and in many cases life itself to millions in his petty, petulant determination to control what we do with our bodies.

Here’s a report by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor on the gentleman from Michigan:

Representative Bart Stupak often endures things others find unbearable. He crisscrosses a Congressional district so vast that some constituents live eight hours apart and so cold that the beer at his beloved football games sometimes freezes. Years ago, as a state trooper, he blew out his knee chasing a suspect, and he has since had so many operations that he now returns to work the same day, toting crutches and ice.

After his younger son committed suicide in 2000, using the congressman’s gun, Mr. Stupak soon resumed his predawn commute to Washington and his solid voting record with the National Rifle Association.

Now he is enduring more hatred than perhaps any other member of Congress, much of it from fellow Democrats. His name has become a slogan: “Stop Stupak!”

Scott Schloegel, his chief of staff, said wearily, “I can’t tell you how many New Yorkers have called me up and yelled at me about this Stupak guy.”

Well, sorry, I can’t work up any sympathy for Scott Schloegel or his boss.  I did not elect them to ordain (along with their friends the U.S. Congress of Catholic Bishops) what American women may or may not do, by writing regressive language into a bill that could start this country toward sanity in health policy. I, along with millions of others, elected Barack Obama in part because we want our ridiculous, dysfunctional health system fixed.

With final negotiations on a health care overhaul beginning this week, complaints about “the evil Stupak amendment,” as the congressman dryly called it over dinner here recently, are likely to grow even louder. The amendment prevents women who receive federal insurance subsidies from buying abortion coverage — but critics assert it could cause women who buy their own insurance difficulty in obtaining coverage.

Mr. Stupak insists that the final bill include his terms, which he says merely reflect current law. If he prevails, he will have won an audacious, counterintuitive victory, forcing a Democratic-controlled Congress to pass a measure that will be hailed as an anti-abortion triumph. If party members do not accept his terms — and many vow they will not — Mr. Stupak is prepared to block passage of the health care overhaul.

“It’s not the end of the world if it goes down,” he said over dinner. He did not sound downbeat about the prospect of being blamed for blocking the long-sought goal of President Obama and a chain of presidents and legislators before him. “Then you get the message,” he continued. “Fix the abortion language and bring the bill back.”

Stupak’s father reportedly began study for the priesthood before changing his mind and getting married. The 10 Stupak siblings went to Catholic schools and he often cites the strength of his Catholicism. I honor him for his faith, and respect that faith. I just do not respect its assertion, via the Congress of Bishops, that one faith should dictate health policy for the nation. Admittedly, they have support from many conservatives, religious and otherwise; but “Fix the abortion language and bring the bill back?” What is he smoking with his frozen beer? It will take another 19 years to bring the bill back, if it comes back at all.

“The National Right to Life Committee and the bishops saw this as a way to vastly increase restrictions on choice,” said Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, who is a chief deputy House whip and co-chairwoman, with Ms. Slaughter, of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus.

Mr. Stupak was “not given very much negotiating room” by those organizations, Ms. DeGette said. Now “he’s gotten himself into a corner where he says it’s my amendment or it’s nothing.”

(Mr. Stupak says he urged the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to toughen its stance on the legislation; representatives from the conference and the National Right to Life Committee did not return calls.)

It may not be the end of the world for Congressman Stupak if the bill fails to pass. But it will be exactly that for uncounted thousands who are already suffering and dying for lack of health insurance and decent care.

Congressman Wears Scorn as a Medal in Abortion Fight – NYTimes.com.