June 9–Listening: Advice from the Society of Friends

One of the oldest practices in listening as spiritual practice resides in the Quaker or Society of Friends tradition.  With regards to how they conduct their daily relationships, Quakers advocate:

Listening for the truth in the words of others.

As a stand alone practice, wouldn’t this revolutionize the way we are with our fellow beings?  The mess of living in this democracy during political campaigns turns all of us into potential knee-jerk jerks.  Before another person finishes a sentence, I am inclined to think I know what they are thinking, what they mean, and what kind of person they are.  I am inclined in that sort of approach to reduce another person to some set of labels that already exist in my head, dismiss them, and move on to do more damage like this.

What if I chose to listen–especially to messages I consider painful to hear–so that I was open to the truth in their words?  There is a truth underneath the baggage of our words even if we don’t find the best way to make that plain to others.  What if listening for the truth in the words of others became my way of being in relationships?

I’ve found more guidance for listening among the additional guides that the Society of Friends holds for conducting business in worship.  It’s worth noting up front that they conceive of doing their congregational business in the context of worship.

  • Begin with centering worship.
  • Listen to all messages with openness, receive them in worship, and allow for silence between them.
  • Respond to the heart of the message, not to the messenger.
  • Speak only once to a given issue unless it is clear that more is appropriate; allow all present to speak before seeking to speak a second time.
  • Avoid interrupting or engaging in asides or side conversations (maintaining one’s center).
  • Seek guidance before speaking.
  • Avoid inappropriate emotional attachment to one’s own opinion.
  • Consider introducing potentially contentious ideas and expressing deep convictions by means of queries rather than statements.
  • Call for silence (anyone can do this) to re-center in a spirit of worship.
  • Defer a decision if there is not clearness.
  • When personally disagreeing with the sense of the meeting, either stand aside (accept the meeting’s decision while expressing disagreement with it) or stand in the way (gently insist that the meeting consider your concern before acting).
  • Learn to trust Quaker process to work and leave the outcome to the Spirit.

Point by point, these guides really center on listening.  When one speaks, it comes from a centered place, which is deep listening.  When listening to others it is always from that place of silence and centering refusing to make one’s ideas an ego-work but constantly offering one’s position back into the silence.  Seeking guidance and learning trust require more deep listening–what is Spirit or God or Reason saying here to us all and not just to me?  Rather than capitulate to a vote, a hand count and create winners and losers, if there is not clearness, the choice is to defer the question until a later time when there is clearness.  That is, of it self, a choice to continue listening.

Today: listen for the truth in the words of others.

Bob Patrick

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