Listening to Stories

Part 3 of 3 in the series LISNing

In his book, “Callings” Gregg Levoy talks about the reconciliation work of Gene Knudsen Hoffman in the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the oldest interfaith pacifist organization in the world.

“My mother used to take me to all kinds of different churches while I was growing up,” she says, “and she told me there was truth in all of them, and it was up to me to fmd it.” In her travels, she discovered that there is no one truth. There are only stories. “If each side can listen to the stories of the other, the suffering of the other, the history of the other, reconciliation is made much easier.” If we could read the secret history of our enemies, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote, “we should find, in each person’s life, sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostilities.” 
Gene doesn’t soft-sell the challenge of refusing to take sides, of setting aside biases in contending with conflicts outside or inside herself. Biases come with the territory, and they come on strong. “I have often found fantastic opposition to my listening work even from fellow peace workers. Very few helped me, and none went with me on certain trips. They have an enemy and they don’t want to listen to them, as if by listening they would be condoning. 

If you can hold paradox, Gene says, you can hold tremendous energy within you and be a force for mediation in the world. Equanimity is an ability that naturally mitigates against tyranny both within and among people. Furthermore, by not subjugating parts of yourself and parts of others, you belong to more of yourself and the world, and the world belongs more to you. You’re not “fighting it” all the time


One of the toughest challenges in holding paradox is in admitting that all the contraries exist inside each of us (and then admitting them in). We are both courageous and cowardly. We both want to know ourselves and don’t. We both want to follow our calls and want to fall fast asleep under the nearest palm frond. 


It takes tremendous courage and hard work, Gene says, not to take sides when we experience conflict but to Stretch the soul wide enough to encompass both sides, stretch the imagination almost to the bursting point and understand that two utterly contrary stories can coexist even within the same person. In part, this is why it typically takes Gene three months to “process” the stories she gathers on her listening journeys before she can sit down to write her articles and books, or proceed with speaking tours. For instance, after interviewing both Israelis and Palestinians on the staggering number of issues that divide what is essentially, ethnically, the same people, she had to wait for the two halves of the paradox to sink in, to fashion of themselves something of a whole in her mind, and for an informed response to emerge from the demilitarized zone between them, from the holy place between the two colliding world’s. 

Gregg Levoy

Inter-communication is critical for peace, not just internationally in interfaith understanding, but in the family, with couples, and at work.

LISN_circles are about how this can be done without having to compromise your own authenticity.

As Gene says above, 
“If each side can listen to the stories of the other, the suffering of the other, the history of the other, reconciliation is made much easier.” 

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