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Brief Encounters with the Taos Institute
Taos Institute Newsletter, november 2021
Once a Native American chief was interviewed by a reporter from The New York Times about life in his reservation. It was a short conversation. The chief stopped the interview after only a few questions. “My answers tell more about your questions than about our way of living,” he said.
How do we get better at listening to each other? Even the most curious and open questions can hit a wall of cultural differences. Even at my most interested, my language is always a barrier, for it creates the boundaries for any possible answers. My world is not your world, my social constructions are not your social constructions.
I am a psychologist working in private practice. In my conversations with people, I try my best to position myself in a not-knowing stance. Inspired by Harlene Anderson. And inspired by improv theater, in which the first rule is never to say “no” to what is coming at you, always, “Yes, and…” It requires what Monica Sesma and I in a workshop on this year’s ICCP conference dubbed “radical listening” – just listening, without agendas, interventions, or end goals in mind. Really listening. Maybe even getting wiser in the process.
In many ways radical listening is double listening: We try to pay close attention to the other person’s story, but at the same time we listen to ourselves, so that our questions or reflections don’t limit or put an end to the dialogue. It requires my favorite professional approach: What Gianfranco Cecchin called irreverence. Staying alert to our own tendencies for falling in love with a specific hypothesis or moral imperative.