Listening is for understanding, not judgement

Below is Whisper #16 from my latest book, 48 WHISPERS, which is a collection of photographs and personal meditations created across a decade of travel to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the surrounding northern plains. 

As a young manager I often listened to evaluate the perspectives of others. But after living for a few years with my voice condition the purpose of listening changed for me. Listening, it turned out, was for understanding. Authentic alignment only comes from honoring the diversity of views that exist naturally within the world. Voices are unique by design.

“Whose voice was first sounded on this land? It was the voice of the red people who had but bows and arrows. What has been done in my country I did not want, did not ask for it; white people going through my country. When the white man comes in my country he leaves a trail of blood behind him. I have two mountains in that country—the Black Hills and the Bighorn Mountains. I want the Great Father to make no roads through them. I have told these things three times; now I have come here to tell them the fourth time.” —Red Cloud

Conflict requires judgment. When judgment is the outcome of listening, no further progress is possible. When people are judged they don’t feel heard and dialogue is rendered meaningless. When dialogue becomes meaningless, then force is often applied.

The nineteenth-century collision of America’s Western expansion and the Lakota hegemony on the northern plains might have yielded a much different set of outcomes if everyone involved had been able to listen for understanding rather than judgment. The only mind I need to open is my own.