On Listening: Third Things by Parker Palmer — Notes

A Hidden Wholeness by Parker J. Palmer | Book Excerpt | Spirituality & Practice

“In Western culture, we often seek truth through confrontation. But our headstrong ways of charging at truth scare the shy soul away. If soul truth is to be spoken and heard, it must be approached ‘on the slant.’ I do not mean we should be coy, speaking evasively about subjects that make us uncomfortable, which weakens us and our relationships. But soul truth is so powerful that we must allow ourselves to approach it, and it to approach us, indirectly. We must invite, not command, the soul to speak. We must allow, not force, ourselves to listen.

We achieve intentionality in a circle of trust by focusing on an important topic. We achieve indirection by exploring that topic metaphorically, via a poem, a story, a piece of music, or a work of art that embodies it. I call these embodiments ‘third things’ because they represent neither the voice of the facilitator nor the voice of a participant. They have voices of their own, voices that tell the truth about a topic but, in the manner of metaphors, tell it on the slant. Mediated by a third thing, truth can emerge from, and return to, our awareness at whatever pace and depth we are able to handle — sometimes inwardly in silence, sometimes aloud in community — giving the shy soul the protective cover it needs.

This is why an unconventional kind of note-taking is helpful in a circle of trust. Normally, at workshops and retreat, we take the most notes on what the leader says, and a few, if any, notes on the words we ourselves speak. In a circle of trust, we reverse that order, taking the most notes on the words that arise within us, whether we speak them or not.

What T. S. Eliot said about poetry is true of all third things: ‘[Poetry] may make us a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves.”

You’re Not Listening, Here’s Why by Kate Murphy — Notes

You’re Not Listening. Here’s Why. – The New York Times

There’s an unconscious tendency to tune out people you feel close to because you think you already know what they are going to say.

…something incredibly ironic about interpersonal communication: The closer we feel toward someone, the less likely we are to listen carefully to them. It’s called the closeness-communication bias and, over time, it can strain, and even end, relationships.

Social science researchers have repeatedly demonstrated the closeness-communication bias in experimental setups where they paired subjects first with friends or spouses and then with strangers. In each scenario, the researchers asked subjects to interpret what their partners were saying. While the subjects predicted they would more accurately understand, and be understood by, those with whom they had close relationships, they often understood them no better than strangers, and often worse.

Harvard sociologist Mario Luis Small found that slightly more than half the time, people confided their most pressing and worrisome concerns to people with whom they had weaker ties, even people they encountered by chance, rather than to those they had previously said were closest to them — like a spouse, family member or dear friend.

::But what is love if not a willingness to listen to and be a part of another person’s evolving story? A lack of listening is a primary contributor to feelings of loneliness.::

Listening During a Pandemic by Kate Murphy — Notes

Listening During a Pandemic – The New York Times

The trouble is that listening is a skill few diligently practice even in the best of times, and it can really fall by the wayside during periods of uncertainty, hardship and stress.

People aren’t devices where you can just press “play” and they will share their innermost thoughts and feelings with you. Intimacy is earned through patience, sensitivity and meeting people where they are.

It was about how he was experiencing life.” These days, she said she looks forward to her daily “quarantine call” with her dad, who now lives in Florida.
It wasn’t transactional. It was about how he was experiencing life.” These days, she said she looks forward to her daily “quarantine call” with her dad, who now lives in Florida.

…employing a tactic known as “third things.” The term was coined by the Quaker educator and author Parker Palmer and refers to things external to the two people talking, which can serve as springboards for connection.

Start out by talking about something the other person likes, or maybe doesn’t like, and finding out why that is. It could be music, art, books, films, food, favorite childhood toys or even other people. The point is to explore one another’s affinities, attitudes, beliefs and opinions — but never argue about them. As the Polish-born social psychologist Robert Zajonc wrote, “::We are never wrong about what we like or dislike.”::

Careful listening requires focus and effort. You can only keep at it for only so long. So it’s important to be alert to the other person’s, and your own, willingness to continue. If you’re unsure, just ask: “Had enough?” or “Shall we pick this up later?”

Perhaps as illuminating as the use of third things is listening to how people respond to expansive hypotheticals such as “If you could time travel, where would you go?” or “If you could live to be 100 and you could retain either the brain or body of a 25-year-old, which would you chose?” Such imaginative flights can be a welcome escape when feeling stifled and hemmed in at home. People’s answers and their reasoning may surprise you, even when they are people you think you know well.

Graham Bodie, a professor of integrated marketing and communication at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, has studied listening for almost 20 years, and his data suggests listeners’ responses are emotionally attuned to what speakers say less than 5 percent of the time.

Anyone who has shared something personal and received a thoughtless or uncomprehending response knows how it makes your soul want to crawl back in its hiding place.