How to listen when we disagree

As she spoke to me about her beliefs on abortion, I wanted to stop her, and tell her my story.

I’ve sat with two loved ones as they suffered through the difficult decision and consequences of ending a pregnancy. It was a brutal human experience, and gave me an insight to something I never expected to witness.

In moments like that, “choice” doesn’t seem to be the right word.

So, when she told me they should be arrested for terminating a pregnancy, the familiar burn of disagreement started to fire in me.

There were so many things I wanted to say. I wanted to change her mind, to argue, to disagree. Its a natural response.

But, if my story brought me to my beliefs, then I needed to know how her story brought her to her beliefs.

“When you listen, you may learn something new”
— Dalai Lama

So, I asked:

“Thank you for sharing that. Tell me your story? I’d love to know how you came to this point of view.”

She seemed surprised by my interest.

“Why? It doesn’t matter. Your sign said Free Listening, so I gave you something to listen to.”

“Give me more to listen to.”

“They should be locked up! It’s wrong. It’s not right to go out and sleep with whoever, then just vacuum away the result like it never happened.”

She paused…then inhaled the entire world.

“And it’s not fair. All I’ve ever wanted to be is a mom. My whole life, I knew I was meant to have children. Then, when I was 18—18!—the doctor told me I’d never have children. My ovaries were damaged, or doesn’t matter which. I kept it a secret, and when my husband found out, he left me. I’m alone, my body doesn’t work, I’m old…who will ever love me…”

I wondered if she could hear my heart breaking.

“…so, I guess I get upset when I see people who can get pregnant, who can have kids, who’s bodies work…who can be moms…and they just choose not to…”

Sometimes, there’s nothing to “disagree” with.

I didn’t need to be right.

I just needed to be there.

She wiped away a few tears, gave me a hug, and thanked me for listening.

She exhaled, and walked back into the RNC circus.

Maybe one day, she’ll hear my story. But today, it was my turn to hear hers.


One question from the past year is about how to behave around police, not only in traffic stops but like the schoolgirl who was apparently not cooperative enough for the school's police officer. I heard many conversations that went past each other, because there are two viewpoints that can appear opposed but are different axes, parallel but not intersecting.

The one that concerns proper police behavior is not against, and does not deny, the view about what parents should teach their children. The two do interact when they spread out to related issues, like "the Talk", white privilege, etc. But while those questions can orbit around the first issue, the difficulty is in agreeing on which view is the one being discussed.

In a discussion of best police practices, it is hard to prevent someone from saying "Why did the student not cooperate?", which gets answered with "Why does the student need to behave better than the policeman?" It is this conflating of two different questions that makes for an unresolvable issue.

If the first question, of best police practice, can be set aside long enough to address the parenting/student behavior question, it becomes easy to answer the second while saying, now let's get back to the first question. Unfortunately, someone can control the discussion by re-asking their preferred question, which has the effect of stopping movement toward resolution.

But if we are patient, sometimes it can be effective to wait for another opportunity to return to one's question, letting the other complete a statement or presentation. Where it gets really hard is with more than two in the conversation.


? What's this about? Is there something going on I haven't noticed? If this is some reminder that all opinions are equal, I do not subscribe to that belief. The abortion example is always cloying because individual accounts should have no impact on public health policy. So while the example is valid it isn't relevant to any political discussion and only serves to introduce emotional responses to a serious public health discussion

Excuse all typos thus is sent from my phone.


I didn't see it about abortion. I saw it about listening. YMMV.


An excellent question.

Yes, listening to others' opinions is A Good Thing. So would be world peace and a cure for cancer. Do we want or need a TPM Hive thread to tell us any of those things?

Inquiring minds want to know...

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Did I need to ask first?


Please tell me that this is not another topic about coddling someone here.

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When I go to a restaurant and they have something on the menu I don't like, I just skip over that item.

I wonder why y'all find this different?

Skip over this thread if you aren't interested.


If we don't listen, we're pretty much doomed to hear the same stuff over, and over, and over again, reiterated endlessly because the speaker knows that no one is listening, and they need to be heard. A dear friend, a very skilled and wise psychiatric social worker, used to say "The bad feelings need to get out before the good feelings can come in." So listening is essential to clearing the way for changing feelings.

"Listening" doesn't mean just shutting up and letting the other talk. It means acknowledging their pain and affirming their right to feel that pain, and their worth as a human being. This kind of "responsive listening" isn't easy, and often takes time and energy. But it does work in many cases.

That woman who was so adamant against abortion because of her own pain and frustration, if she were heard and acknowledged more effectively, likely could be talked (and listened) to, as Halcyan illustrated, to come around to the awareness that others' lives and needs are just as important, and that she has no more right to dictate to others than they do to dictate to her. And her rage would diminish and her empathy increase. But first, the bad feelings need to be drained before her feelings have a chance to change.

In this election, and the previous ones as well, we're facing down a great many people who are experiencing pain and frustration and fear that they don't have a clue how to deal with, other than rage and attacks. Sometimes we're in a position to encounter them face to face.

Seems to me there are useful parallels there.


If this is related to what I think it is then I just have one more thing to say and then I'll not comment further.

  • When someone has said over and over again that they are here to learn

  • and time after time we have voiced our concerns for them to read and learn from

  • and four of their topics have had to be locked

  • yet they continue to complain about our being intolerant, that their communication skills are lacking etc.

  • and time after time we have voiced our concerns for them to read and learn from

  • but they are still not learning

Need I continue?

Yes, I'll scroll right on past.

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All public health policy is based on individual accounts.
Lots of them, gathered without passion or prejudice.

Good public health policy, anyway.

I'm much better over the years to just listen to people I disagree with. It's deeply satisfying. Pragmatically I find it is effective in occasionally changing people's minds, not sure why. Keeps my blood pressure lower too. I learn a lot.

It's similar to forgiveness in that it's not agreeing with what's occurred.

There's the old line that forgiveness is accepting the past won't change. Similarly good listening is accepting that the other guy's past won't change when or how he/she came to the opinion they hold. Keeps me a little saner!


Collecting the stories of indivuals impacted by public health decisions are not basing public health pitch on the stories of individuals. We must have hard data to back up those policies. When we quarantine patients with tuberculosis we don't do it because of the individual stories we do it because of evidence, real data.

I worked on a Superfund Site for my graduate degree and while historical evidence was a part of the story I told in my paper, it is evidence based using cold hard data painstakingly collected by a variety of scientists.

That same rule goes with public health policy, we don't quarantine tuberculosis patients from the general population because of stories of people being infected we do it because of evidence, cold hard data, proving that the general population is at risk of contacting the disease. So while we do tell our stories, and we do collect those stories, we do not as a rule base our decision making process on individual stories. We base decisions made on data collected and analysis of that data.

While the right to chose has saved women in America from the clothes hanger abortion, which are the individual stories of abortion, but those stories are backed up by facts, the facts are the many women affected because of the outlawing of a medical procedure. Those are data collected and facts not merely stories of women impacted. Those were facts, data often collected from mortuaries.

I'm out.. Evening folks.


Because, to be blunt, restaurant menus do not contain messages implicitly issuing moral chastisement to us for not picking their recommended dish of the day or whatever.

I am interested; but one can be (and I am) "interested" in something one finds pernicious. I at least initially scan every new thread on TPM. When I came on this one, my immediate reaction was "We're being browbeaten about not being nice-nice playmates for The Thing That Must Not Be Named Lest One Be Banned." I find it very disturbing. Whether I am The Lone Ranger on that you must judge for yourself.


This thread could be taken as inspired by difficulties here but not specific to them. Even within our wing of the political spectrum we get disagreements, but in general, the political polarization in the country is unnerving. It's ok to talk about how to live with and work with it---no need to consider this as behavioral pressure.

They have sections that say "healthier choices"

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Well that was not my intent. I live in a state where there were a HUGE number of Bernie or Busters - you do too, but on the non-Bernie side of the mountains. My local LD group and all of our activities are hot spots of disagreement lately. I watch people who are ostensibly on the same team tearing into each other constantly. Someone posted this link and I thought it was interesting, and it was a liberal posting about having spent some time at the RNC in a sort of listening booth, and this is the blog entry he wrote.

So I shared it here. I don't really have any authority to do anything here, much to many people's chagrin I suppose. The posts that I made I made as a regular joe schmoe here and I have just continued to post them. I don't have any kind of super power, even as an Admin, and in fact, when things get tricky here, we are asked to stick to the main boards. So whatever it is you think I have up my sleeve is just you thinking that. I have my own ways of doing things, and it isn't as aggressive as many of you. But we are different, and that's ok. But I am allowed to have my opinion and my say as well, right? That's what I am doing. You are, of course, free to participate as you want. Or not.

But this isn't some official chastisement. I don't have the juice. I just have my own opinions.

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If you consider that a parallel, then we are very far apart in our modes of thought.

The underlying question relevant to The Hive is why any of us should have to "live with and work with it". If I run a hotel and some guest regularly urinates or defecates on the rug in the lobby, do I just ignore it and tell all my other guests they just need to "live with and work with it"? That seems to me a fairly exact parallel. Do I tell them explicitly or implicitly that their complaints about that guest are inappropriate? Do I threaten to lock them out of their rooms if they make such complaints?

I still do not have the least idea what TPM's problem is here.

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I do not feel this thread is about TPM.


And just possibly this isn't about the Hive. It's just about Humans.