Existential Psychology

Compassionate Listening

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Compassionate listening comes from a place of non-judgment where the goal is to hear and understand the other’s perspective better in order to help uncover and reduce the various sources of suffering in this person’s life. Compassionate listening becomes possible when we come to the insight that all of us suffer as human beings due to the tragic circumstances of our existential situation, due to our knowledge of our own mortality and our fundamental inability to change the outcome. We all deal with this and other sources of suffering in our own ways, sometimes healthy and productive but often unhealthy and destructive.

Those of us currently incapable of compassionate listening are unable to get past our negative judgments and negative appraisals of individuals or groups, who we view as the Other, as monstrous or less than human, who we look upon with skepticism or mistrust, so that we see these people or groups as fundamentally different from us and therefore dangerous.

In yoga when we say ‘Namaste’ what we mean is that the light in me recognizes and honors that same light within you. At that deeper existential level what we find is the same growth energy, the same capacity for love and brotherhood and sisterhood, the same desire for happiness and security, in everybody. And under different, healthier, more secure conditions those currently caught up in the vicious cycle of hatred and despair would have grown into loving, compassionate people because their own tendencies towards growth and love would have been nourished and encouraged rather than stifled.

Compassionate listening takes it as a given that unhealthy, destructive behaviors are not the result of any inherent flaws within the person but rather the result of wrong perceptions and difficulty managing suffering. Only by truly hearing and understanding the other’s point of view, without censure or judgment, can we help people increase their own insight so that they can decide of their own accord, without being coerced, to remove the blockages currently getting in the way of their growth and self-actualization and authentic happiness. There’s no guarantee that they will of course but if we believe there is some insight that they lack that is leading them to making destructive choices for themselves and others then it’s up to us to help them achieve that insight, not disregard them as monsters beyond saving. What we often find is that through compassionate listening we too come to some insight that helps us be better people and cut down on our own destructive behaviors.