Bursting the Bubble

Philippians 2:3-4

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

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It’s not easy to live outside our bubbles, but there are simple things we can practice every day that can help. Here are four empathetic listening skills that allow us to resist bubble-based living.

Four Skills for Empathetic Listening

1.    Learn to ask good questions. The less you talk, the more opportunities you have to listen. Asking a lot of good questions increases the chance that you’ll understand the other person’s views and communicate respect to the speaker.

2.    Learn to use the phrase, “Can you please tell me more about…” You don’t even need to formulate a question—just invite the other person to tell you more about the topic that you need to better understand.

3.    Learn to withhold judgment. Empathetic listening means learning what it’s like to walk in someone’s shoes before you form an opinion about their beliefs. This doesn’t mean you can never assess the merits of a viewpoint. Rather, it means listening with a genuine desire to understand before attempting any kind of critique.

4.    Learn to stop your mind from pre-generating responses or rebuttals. When we are seeking to be understood, we invest more mental energy on what we’re going to say than on what we’re hearing. Empathetic listening means turning off or turning down the part of our brain that pre-generates responses as the other person is sharing. Instead, focus on listening and understanding well.

Places to Practice the Skill of Empathetic Listening

•ONLINE: Subscribe to or bookmark media websites from perspectives that are different from yours. Practice suspending judgment. (Extra points: find a media or political personality you vehemently disagree with and try to understand their side.)

•IN REAL LIFE: Better yet, have a real-life conversation with someone at work or at your volunteer agency or know socially who has vastly different viewpoints or interests than you. Visit a political forum, a religious group meeting, a lecture, or a social function where people gather who think/believe differently than you. As you meet people, practice listening well and seek to more deeply understand that individual and their community.

•IN YOUR CHURCH: Find someone who is different from you (particularly along ethnic, age, or socioeconomic lines) and invite them out to coffee to get to know them better. Practice seeking to understand rather than to be understood. Get to know them on their terms rather than on yours.

It’s not easy to live outside our bubbles of familiarity. But in an increasingly polarized and divided world, Christians have an amazing opportunity to be different by demonstrating the loving, serving Jesus in the way we listen to those who are different from us. And who knows? You might learn something new.