Reciprocity of listening

Jane Winter

Have you ever sat for two and half hours just listening carefully? Listening for such a long period of time is hard work and demands high levels of concentration. On Thursday I was able to listen for this period to a debate in the House of Lords initiated by the Zoroastrian, Lord Bilimoria who moved the motion:

“That this House takes note of the contribution made by minority ethnic and religious communities to the cultural life and economy of the United Kingdom, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the formation of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe.”

The debate was wide-ranging, informative, entertaining and moving. It was set in the context of the contribution the Zoroastrian community – one of the smallest faith communities – has made to British life over 150 years. By moving the motion Lord Bilimoria opened the way for others to respond from their own faith and cultural traditions. Speakers illustrated the enormous contribution people from minority communities have made and continue to make to the social, political, economic, education, health and military life of Britain as well as offering the underpinning values inherent in a range of faith traditions.

You can read the whole debate here:

Two things really struck me about the experience of being in the House of Lords:

  1. Listening is an essential part of what makes us human together. Deep listening (we were not able to take any notes) requires total commitment to the speaker, even when we can’t see them. It requires us to put aside our own opinions and give full attention to the other. Real listening only happens when the speaker knows they have been heard.

  2. One speaker retold the story that the wise men featured at the birth of Jesus were possibly Zoroastrians, who offered wisdom and gift. The point of retelling this tale was to remind the House that minority communities still offer wisdom and gift to contribute to the well-being of society. This became a theme running through the debate. I was reminded that all of us through our faith based social action also offer wisdom and gift, and when our social action is truly effective we also receive wisdom and gift from those we seek to work alongside.

Let me illustrate the point: to get to the gallery in the House of Lords you join a queue marked ‘visitors’. As you ascend the stairs the signs change from ‘visitors’ to ‘strangers gallery.’ Those of us who left the gallery after the debate were changed from being strangers to having something in common because we had shared listening and received wisdom and gift, which we can now share with others. This seems to me to be a good principle on which to build a healthy diverse society.

What do you think?