Once upon a time, one of my mentors said to me, “When you hear something new, use the Three Heap method.
“Heap 1 is for things you accept.
“Heap 2 is for things you reject.
“And Heap 3 is for things you don’t have enough info on, things you’re going to just hold for now.”
My mentor said, “Keisha, Heap 3 should be your biggest heap. You can’t learn anything from Heap 1 since you’ve already swallowed it.
“And you can’t learn anything from Heap 2, since you’ve already spat it out.
“But Heap 3, you can still learn something from.
So hold it.”
Non-defensive listening is fundamental to learning and it’s also a cornerstone of non-violence. I call it a life skill because it opens the way for a quality of life with others that transcends the perception of threat and moves to diminish and demonize.
Listening makes it possible for us to stretch beyond the world that we each build with our own private perceptions and experiences. It allows us to account for the worlds that others around us live in and incorporate their knowledge into our own. We live on the same planet as each other, and yet we live in different conceptual worlds. Those differences aren’t trivial, and genuine community, community that has passed beyond the pseudo stage of shallow approval, creates and cultivates space for threshing those differences for whatever wheat might be hidden in the chaff.
Listening non-defensively and holding that third heap doesn’t at all mean that we’ll ultimately agree: there’s a second heap for good reason! Some things are simply too toxic to be consumed and should be spat out for health’s sake. Communities determine for themselves which dynamics are unacceptable to them and their membership.
What’s critical, even in that process, is that we practice how to look beyond the debate to the real human needs underlying people’s attachments to their beliefs or ideas. This can’t become a world that works for all if we keep on masking human needs behind appeals to power, authority, and the right to exclude. We have to practice the vulnerability involved in articulating our needs and asserting responsibility for meeting them in ways that don’t require others to suffer.
Here’s Miki Kashtan on how to directly engage someone with whom you deeply disagree:
Judging someone is an indication that a need of ours is not met. The first step in transforming judgments is to recognize and connect with our unmet needs.
The action we’re judging is itself an attempt to meet needs. The second step is connecting with the needs of the person we’re judging so that we can open our hearts with compassion.
When we experience challenge in transforming our judgments, we can reflect on what needs we might be trying to meet by holding on to our judgments. Connecting with this set of needs may be essential to enable the previous two steps to proceed.” –Miki Kashtan, Transforming Judgments and Enemy Images
Listen. Listen deeply. And be willing to reply.