In our first blog post, Aaron Hayworth, our Conflict Transformation Ministries student intern, reflected on the essential underpinning of conflict transformation work: the presence of God. Approaches, techniques, and mediators may vary, yet, the presence of God remains constant in the work of making peace. God shows up in numerous, sometimes surprising ways. One of the clearest ways we see God is in the recognition of the image of God (the imago dei) in one another.
In this second blog post, I would like to reflect upon one of the essential skills of conflict transformation: the ability to listen well. This skill follows naturally from talking about the imago dei because listening well depends upon the recognition of the image of God in one another and in one’s own self. When we listen to one another, we honor the image of God within the person we are hearing. In order to listen well, we must put aside our prejudices, pre-conceived notions, and agendas in order to be fully present to the one who is speaking. Listening, truly listening, requires divine intervention in the form of love, patience, kindness, generosity, and self-discipline—all fruit of the Spirit.
Listening well is hard work! Whether I am with one person or one hundred people, my effort is to listen with my body, my mind, and my spirit. My focus is on the person who is speaking. I observe the speaker’s demeanor and body language. I listen to what is said, to be sure, and I also listen to what is unsaid. I listen to the words, and, with God’s grace, I listen for the heart’s cry behind and within the words.
Listening well also requires the ability to listen to oneself. As I am listening to another speak, I periodically check in with myself. What is my body language? What is my facial expression? Am I getting anxious? Am I frustrated? Confused? Sad? What is the Holy Spirit saying to me? How is the Spirit directing me to respond or not respond to what is being said or what is unsaid?
Listening well is a gift to one another and a gift to the church. May the Spirit give us all ears to hear!