Posted by: MC | September 16, 2010

Because I Knew You Then, I Can Listen to You Now

I spent the last week with a friend I had not seen since we were both 15 – a friend I met when we were 6 and in elementary school in Sweetwater, TX.

By the time we were 12, serendipity of some wild Texas variety had turned circumstances so that we both showed up in Mrs. Southerland’s English class in Peterson Junior High School, Kerrville, TX.  His family had moved to start Gibson’s, an early version of discount stores now dwarfed by rampaging Targets and Wal-Marts.  A few years later, our family moved to Kerrville for my dad to run a conference grounds on the North fork of the Guadalupe River.

For sure, it was a cool surprise to show up in the same junior high in a different town.  But it’s been over-the-top amazing to reconnect on the other side of all the water under our respective bridges in the meantime.

That water, its weather and its scenery have been vastly different for the two of us.  For my friend it has involved extensive time and comfort in the rugged terrain of still untamed Texas ranges as a hunter, rancher, and now also as a broker for ranch land.  He managed somehow to add mastery of the equally treacherous environs of high stakes stock trading with successful offices in TX, IL and NYC.  As for me – well, aside from lots of opportunity to travel, I started school in kindergarten and never left.  Bottom line — we’ve come to know the world quite differently.

The EX:Change is all about listening across differences.  Ten thousand miles of driving and listening in early 2009 left me pretty practiced, but as this week showed me, I’m by no means finished.

EX:Change made me better than ever at listening when my own sensibilities meet opposition – when someone thinks in a way that offends (that being the grown up way to say frightens) me.  And I’d like to think I’m moving in the direction of equanimity.  Even as I know that level of mastery is the distant reserve for saints and sages, I also know from the voices of EX:Change that taking time and having the courage to listen beyond initial resistance can go a long way to supporting the changes we all want.

I won’t go into detail here on the conversations my friend and I had this week.  They were about things like climate change and gun rights, wars and immigration, health care, economy and governance.  Without trying, our talk sparked and flared around the same themes echoing across the 100 voices of EX:Change.  The powerful thing was that every single time, we stayed with it long enough to watch the flash of heat convert to the warm fire of friendship – of dialogue across difference.  I learned from him and he learned from me.

Something essential held us together – something that was more important than being right and more trustworthy than the reflexive disgust that makes it so easy to dismiss, discount and disparage the idiots from the other side.

I’ve had this happen with family, too, but we share ancestry; we’ve been on the giving and receiving ends of the love known as kinship.  And with family I often won’t go as far as I let myself go in talking and listening with my friend from Texas.

Childhood on the same land.  School pictures of the same friends.  Memories of the same seasons and celebrations (the Rattlesnake Roundup in Nolan County, Friday football games in Antler Stadium).  Who knew these would provide the solid ground for taking the great idea of listening further into the realm of actual practice?  It’s pretty humbling – in an important way – to think you’re getting good at, say, listening and then to find out you can still get tripped up and shut down.

I’m still learning from this last week of conversation across years and worldviews, but there are a few things I can say for sure.

  • Against most impulses, it’s actually possible to convert a flash of anger into saying something like — Tell me more.
  • Most of the time it feels good to relax in the face of snap judgment – my own or someone else’s – and to wait for the thoughts just after that.
  • It’s always worth the deep breath.
  • Sharing something deeper than fear holds a good deal of salvation.
  • When it comes to what most people want and care about, there’s way more overlap than difference.


  1. Love this post; “it’s always worth the deep breath.”

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