Effective Communication and Democracy

 We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.”     Psychologist Carl Rogers

The way to practice democracy, adapted from an exercise that Jacob Needleman (San Francisco State University) uses frequently in his philosophy classes, is by communicating through mirroring.  Not as an instrument of reconciliation but as a means of studying and understanding what it really means to listen to another human being.

When in conversation with another person (especially someone with whom you disagree), commit to this condition: “You can only express your own view after you have faithfully summarized what the other has just said.” This technique was originally proposed by American psychologist Carl Rogers in his work on reflective listening.

The actual intent of your responses is not to reflect but to test the accuracy and authenticity of understanding. “Testing your understandings” or “checking perceptions.”  Despite its name, reflective listening is really the art of grasping as precisely as possible from one moment to the next.

Afterwards, by debriefing the experience together. Needleman reports two common results from practicing mirroring. One, participants discover that while they may deny another’s views, they cannot deny the other’s humanity. And second, even though their views have not changed, they have been compelled for a brief moment to take a distance from their passionately held opinions in order to be able to summarize what the other has said. This enabled them to think more clearly and deeply about their own views. And so, this exercise is also an exercise in the work of thinking, thinking together with another human being.

We believe that democracy as a way of life can be strengthened with a deepened understanding of each other—considered to be "inner work" requiring active engagement with our friends, neighbours and communities. In partnership, we are sharing from the inside out.

As always, for more information, please contact me.

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