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Deep looking and deep listening in the service of change

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Deep looking and deep listening in the service of change

Post by Jill Segger on Wed Oct 26, 2016 10:28 am

A series of 82 portraits by David Hockney portrays his sitters – famous and unknown, adults and children – in an identical format: every subject using the same chair and inhabiting the same space.

These works are striking because they are the result of a particular way of seeing. What could have been mechanical and unremarkable is transformed by the heightened gaze. Just as memorable poetry is created from intensified language and great music from mining the deepest lodes of sound, this kind of creativity is the fruit of spaciousness, of time taken and of the quick response interrogated.

The way in which we think and form our responses to the issues and questions which shape our common life frequently falls very short of this authentic approach. It is not difficult to see why. The media, in all its forms, not only requires, but demands an almost instantaneous response. Try pausing for thought in a radio interview and see panic enter your interlocutor’s eyes. Watch and squirm as a politician attempts to give a nuanced answer to an absurdly weighted question and the interviewer goes for the jugular within five seconds. To hesitate is to have 'failed' the challenge. We should not be surprised that evasion and bluster is the learned response

Then there is the 'hit-back' reflex. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the bear-pit of social media. Not only is the ability to differ with respect and reason in short supply, there appear to be an alarming number of people who spend a good part of their day sitting on Twitter with no other purpose than the instant attack upon, or undermining of, any opinion which does not fit with their own. At a time when there is so much division over the Labour leadership and the conduct of the leadership election, this knee-jerkery is dispiriting. What could be a forum for thoughtful debate founded in listening becomes instead a series of loud-hailer assaults and rebuttals.

“Consider it possible you may be mistaken”. This can be very difficult, but without it, there is no growth nor any space for learning, change, or indeed, for building conviction upon foundations of integrity. To look around an issue without sliding into comfortable short cuts provided by confirmation bias or habit takes time. Wherever possible, that time must be respected and where it is not available, we need to take up the challenge presented by remaining silent or admitting to being unsure. The three responses to questioning which were Clement Attlee's usual practice: 'Yes'. 'No' and 'I don't know' may no longer be possible, but the last option does have something to offer a culture at once insecure and combative.

Not to know, or to need more time to reflect, are not signs of weakness. Fast opinions may be as empty of nourishment as fast food and just as deleterious to well-being. The political, social, ethical and spiritual questions presented by a changing and interconnected world which is so often in conflict on both the macro and micro scales, asks of us something in which we are increasingly unpractised. If we would play a part in questioning and forming the fundamental values which shape our societies, we must go far beyond sharp and face-saving smartness. There is much we could learn from considering the focused respect of the creative artist's pursuit of meaning and from seeking sufficient courage to be humble.

Deep looking and deep listening – these are the habits which could transform our discourse and make it possible for people to talk and think about change in a way which cares more for truth and justice than for short-term domination.

This blog first appeared on Ekklesia and is reproduced with acknowledgement. www.ekklesia.co.uk

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen
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