Courage to Speak, Humility to Listen

Wednesday, September 28, 2016 - 5:30 am

Courage to Speak, Humility to Listen

If we value things like friendship, family, community, education, workplaces that work, and democracy, there’s a minimum requirement. We must learn to talk with each other, even when we disagree. Not “at” each other, or even “to” each other, but “with” each other!
So, how’s that going for us? The answer varies from one person to another, from one setting to the next. But when it comes to American democracy, it’s not going very well.
The problem goes much deeper than the infamous dysfunction in Washington, D.C. The problem goes all the way down to us, to “We the People.”
We could have an impact on how they talk with each other, if we would learn to talk with each other across our lines of difference. For real. In a democracy, that’s how “We the People” address urgent issues, form a rough consensus on the common good, and hold our leaders accountable to our will. When we can’t do any of that, we have no leverage on our government.
Here’s a poem about talking with each other by one of my favorite poets, Marge Piercy. It’s not only wise but full of practical advice.
I love the idea of talking in the dark so we couldn’t see who’s speaking and would have to focus on what’s being said! I love the idea that some of us must “dare to speak” while others must “bother to listen.” I love the idea that some of us “must learn to stop dancing solos on the ceiling”! And I love the last few lines. They remind us how impermanent we are, thus encouraging the humility required for good things to happen between and among us.

“Councils”
by Marge Piercy

We must sit down
and reason together.
We must sit down.
Men standing want to hold forth.
They rain down upon faces lifted.

We must sit down on the floor
on the earth
on stones and mats and blankets.
There must be no front to the speaking
no platform, no rostrum,
no stage or table.
We will not crane
to see who is speaking.

Perhaps we should sit in the dark.
In the dark we could utter our feelings.
In the dark we could propose
and describe and suggest.

In the dark we could not see who speaks
and only the words
would say what they say.

Thus saying what we feel and what we want,
what we fear for ourselves and each other
into the dark, perhaps we could begin
to begin to listen.

Perhaps we should talk in groups
small enough for everyone to speak.

Perhaps we should start by speaking softly.
The women must learn to dare to speak.

The men must bother to listen.
The women must learn to say, I think this is so.

The men must learn to stop dancing solos on
the ceiling.
After each speaks, she or he
will repeat a ritual phrase:

It is not I who speaks but the wind.
Wind blows through me.
Long after me, is the wind.

Share Post

Contributor

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

Share Your Reflection

Reflections

apples