I've been really inspired lately by the Urban Confessional, a practice where people hold up signs that say "Free Listening," and then offer their undivided attention to strangers. No matter who a person is, whether they agree with them or not, they simply practice being present.
(For a sense of what it's like, watch their 3-minute video from this year's Republican National Convention.)
I can't think of a more powerful gift, or one that is more needed in the world right now, than listening.
We need it in our families, too.
A lot of people have told me they're anxious about Thanksgiving because it means having to engage with people who are different from them in personality, beliefs, or lifestyle. I think that if we want meaningful and fulfilling relationships with those people, we have no choice but to listen.
By listen, please understand that I don't mean agree, obey, or come to consensus. You can listen without compromising your needs or values. More than anything, it is a state of mind.
If your goal is to convince someone of something, or get validation for your own point of view, that is not good listening. Nor is it good listening to politely smile at someone while inside you are judging and criticizing them. Neither of those practices lead to happiness or connection.
Good listening is about giving people the experience of being seen, heard, and appreciated for the fullness of who they are, which will always be a combination of things that you like and don't like. It's a recognition that other people have lives just as complex as yours, and that there is always more you can learn about them. Listening creates space for new ideas and possibilities to emerge.
No matter who you will be with this Thanksgiving, I hope you have many opportunities to practice listening, and being listened to.
We all need it, and we all deserve it.
All it takes is a willingness to pay attention.