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Podcast Episode 095: Three practical ways to listen when you disagree fiercely – Simon Greer

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Simon Greer is the founder of Bridging The Gap and the host of Courageous Conversations at the Nantucket Project in the United States. He’s known as a social entrepreneur and has spent the last 30 years on the front lines of the most contentious social change and struggles.

Do you struggle to listen when you’re in disagreement? How do you hold your presence, maintain your focus, when everything the other person says is the opposite of what you’ve come to believe? Do you get so angry that you lose track of your argument and theirs?

Today’s episode may be able to help you explore how to listen when you disagree and the difference between arguing for truth or arguing for victory.


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Podcast Episode 095 – Three practical ways listen when you disagree fiercely

Oscar Trimboli:

Three practical ways to listen when you disagree fiercely with Simon Greer. Do you struggle to listen when you’re in disagreement? How do you hold your presence, maintain your focus, when everything the other person says is the opposite of what you’ve come to believe? Do you get so angry that you lose track of your argument and theirs? [00:00:30] Today’s episode may be able to help you explore how to listen when you disagree. And if you know somebody else who struggles when they’re listening in disagreement, why not share the episode with them? Deep Listening, Impact Beyond Words. [00:01:00] Good day. I’m Oscar Trimboli and this is the Apple award-winning podcast Deep Listening, designed to move you from a distracted listener to a deep and impactful leader. Did you know you spend 55% of your day listening, yet only 2% of people have ever been taught how?

In each episode, we explore the five levels of listening. Communication is 50% speaking and 50% listening. Yet as a leader, you’re taught only the importance of [00:01:30] communication from the perspective of how to speak. It’s critical you start to build some muscles for the next phase in how to listen. The cost of not listening, it’s confusion, it’s conflict, it’s projects running over schedule. It’s lost customers. It’s great employees that leave before they want to. When you implement the strategies, the tips and tactics that you’ll hear, you’ll get four hours a week back in your schedule. I wonder what you could do with an extra four hours a week. [00:02:00] A few months ago, I received this email from England, from Jane. It said, “I was moved by this video. It’s a message of integrity and a desire to equip young people with the skills of listening and open mindedness, coupled with curiosity and courage to have the conversations with those [00:02:30] that hold different belief to you.”

Simon Greer:     

People don’t want to communicate across lines of difference. They want to hunker down with their friends where they feel safe, and secure, and validated. Shame on us for not equipping them to do something different.

Oscar Trimboli: 

In the show notes, you’ll be able to access the 18 minute video. There you’ll see people exploring a listening experiment between students [00:03:00] from two different universities in the United States. One, a progressive liberal institution, and another, a conservative institution. This project is called Bridging The Gap. Jane, thanks so much for your message. After watching this video, I wanted to dig a little deeper. I reached out to Simon [00:03:30] Greer, who was there at the birth of this idea, and he continues to spread this concept across many more higher education institutions across the United States. Simon is the founder of Bridging The Gap and the host of Courageous Conversations at the Nantucket Project in the United States. He’s known as a social entrepreneur [00:04:00] and has spent the last 30 years on the front lines of the most contentious social change and struggles. Let’s listen to Simon.

Simon Greer:

What’s the cost of not listening? That question almost brings tears to my eyes. The cost is so severe. The cost [00:04:30] is immense in terms of civilization and democracy. How do you govern a country or a planet with lots of problems if no one’s listening? Some of those problems are existential. Not listening is an existential threat. That’s maybe on the policy, national, global issues, but it’s also the cost of not listening on the spiritual [00:05:00] level because I’m one who believes that the political crisis we face is undergirded by a spiritual crisis. And the spiritual crisis is about how comfortable and confident we’ve become with the other being the other, and dismissible, and therefore a little less human than me. And to me, I’m Jewish. So that story of once people are a little less human than other people, it can cascade very quickly.

And [00:05:30] the act of not listening, you’re not entitled to me listening to you because you’re not quite as made in the image of God as me. You’re not quite as much as citizen as me. You’re not quite as worthy as me. On the spiritual level, I think the cost is pretty high. On the interpersonal level, oh my gosh, it’s like when I’m too busy with my ridiculous phone to really listen to what my kids say, I just miss out on life. I just miss life, in [00:06:00] the stupid phone, and I’m not hearing these two kids, who I love more than anything, I’m not hearing what matters to them. So not listening there is interpersonally familially… Once I came to believe that listening is a superpower, then not listening is like kryptonite.

Oscar Trimboli:

Simon, we’ll spend a bit of time talking about the Bridging The Gap project, but take me back before [00:06:30] that project, and what was the conversation that sparked the idea to create this project?

Simon Greer: 

It’s always dangerous when you’re asked, “Take me back,” because I could go back to… My parents came to the United States on a boat. They came from England in 1965. And to really understand me, you have to understand the part of the Jewish left that I grew up in. I grew up on the Upper West Side in New York City in Manhattan when it was still pretty working class, [00:07:00] middle-class, heavily Jewish, left. I went to a summer camp called Camp Kinderland. And when I say this to people, it was a Jewish communist summer camp, they’re like, “Oh, you mean liberal?” No, no, no, no. No, I mean a Jewish communist summer camp. My bunk was named Goodman and Schwerner and Chaney after the civil rights workers. And the music building was called Paul Robeson. In camp, at least in the US, at summer camp, there’s usually blue verse grey in the camp Olympics. [00:07:30] And at my camp, at Camp Kinderland, the teams were named after countries and anti-colonial struggle. So I was on Vietnam one year, and I was on Ivory Coast one year. I mean, I really grew up on the left, and I learned a huge amount from that.

I didn’t ever do that well in school. And for many years, blamed myself. If I had just applied myself better, if I had just tried harder. It was a problem with me. I don’t think I had a framework [00:08:00] to understand that maybe it was problem with the institution. And when I was in college, I wrote my senior thesis about this place called the Highlander Centre in Tennessee, which is a social movement training ground. Martin Luther King was trained there, Rosa Parks was trained there. The story I want to share is that, in my opening to my thesis in college, when I wrote about Highlander, I quoted a woman I had seen at a workshop there who said, “Highlander learned me good.” And what I loved about it was that it [00:08:30] wasn’t that they taught her. It was that they helped her learn what she knew. It helped her find her wisdom.

Caveat, I failed my thesis because they said it was anti intellectual, which exactly goes to my point about the problem with the institutions. But that aside, after I finished college, I went to Poland, which is the country my family had fled and many had perished in a couple generations back. But I went because I had a chance to go work for Solidarity when they became the government. My first [00:09:00] job was working in Solidarity’s headquarters when Wałęsa was elected and became president of newly freed, newly independent Poland.

And I learned a lot of things there. I learned what social movements are like on a mass scale because everybody was in the movement in the revolution. I learned about how hard it is when you win. They toppled the Soviet Union, and then they had to run an economy and a country, and that’s not easy. As a 21 year old, I got a dose. You’ve got to be very serious about what [00:09:30] it means to win. But the thing I think most relevant for our conversation is that what was seared into my heart was a deep faith in people, that everyday people can do great things. And that’s actually probably the only people who can do great things, right?

It’s not just the smartest person, the most elite person, and the most power [inaudible 00:09:50]. It’s the electrician, and the plumber, and the shipyard worker. And that we actually, as humans, want to do that. We want to be bigger than I just tend to my little life here. We want [00:10:00] to make a mark, but most of us are told we can’t, and the way our societies are structured, it’s increasingly hard to. That launched me into career as a community organiser and a union organiser. And the reason I dwell a little on the backstory is that, over the years, the ’90s into the 2000s, I was involved on the front lines, and in deep ways, in many of the most contentious political struggles in the country.

Oscar Trimboli:       

[00:10:30] Good day. It’s Oscar. I just wanted to have a quick chat with you. I could have interrupted Simon and said, “Let’s focus on the backstory of Bridging The Gap,” rather than continue on with his backstory. Focusing on Bridging The Gap would have been a great example of listening only at level two, to the content. [00:11:00] When you’re open to listening at level three, where we’re listening for the context, you take the time to listen to the backstory and to their backstory. As a result of listening to this backstory, you have a very different understanding and insight into who Simon Greer is. The backstory will make the rest of this discussion [00:11:30] with Simon so much richer and I suspect even more interesting for you. How comfortable are you to stay with the backstory just a little longer? How comfortable are you to ask people, “Do you mind going back to when this first started?” You’ll get into completely different conversation and they’ll listen to themselves in a very different way. [00:12:00] Let’s jump from there into The White House.

Simon Greer:     

I was active in the 2008, President Obama’s election.

President Obama:       

Yes we can. Yes we can to justice and equality.

Simon Greer:   

I remember a couple of days after President Obama was reelected, [00:12:30] I was at The White House. I’m having breakfast in The White House mess with a friend of mine who was very close to the president. And I asked him how he was feeling after the reelection. And he said, “I feel, after four years, like I can let my breath out. I can take a breath because the first African American president won’t be a one term president. He’ll be a two term president.” And I shared that breath with him and I had a moment of thinking like, “Now isn’t everyone going to do what he wants? [00:13:00] The black guy got elected two times. It’s protocol. Everybody does what… The second term president, give him what he wants for two years.” A week later, I had the rude awakening that that was not happening. And it connected to, I don’t know if it precipitated, but it all tied into a rupture or an epiphany for me that there was something way deeper going on.

This was not just about politics. And yeah, of course, race played a big role in it, but [00:13:30] there was a lot going on in our country that was beyond my ability to understand. And the rupture part was that it dawned on me that I had become a social change agent who was convinced that everyone should change except me. That I was right, and if everyone just be more like me, wouldn’t we all be happier? And how unappealing that is. I had fallen into what [00:14:00] my team, the progressive team, I’d fallen into the trap of who we had come to demonise or dismiss. I would say corporate leaders and the white working class were two groups that weren’t at home in the progressive movement. And they were often not viewed well in the progressive movement.

And so I went out and I spent the next couple of years doing everything I could to hang around with those people. And I knew I would learn something about them, and it turned out I learned a lot about me. [00:14:30] What shifted in me was that, maybe just out of desperation or exhaustion, I didn’t go into any of those conversations trying to convince them of anything. I had just let go of needing to be somebody who had a position, who told people how to see it. And it returned me to I have faith in people, in everyday people. I’m going to sit down with this corrections officer from Michigan, [00:15:00] or I’m going to sit down with this executive at this company, and I’m not going to think I know the right answer. I’m just going to listen. And when they tell me something that feels disagreeable, where I feel like that bubbling up of, “Oh no, no, no,” I’m just going to do something different. I’m going to say, “Can you tell me more about that?” Instead of, “Here’s why you’re wrong, dummy.” Or, “Wow. What was that like for you?” Instead of, “I can’t believe you did [00:15:30] that.”

And what started as those two simple moves, “Tell me more about that,” and, “What was that like for you?” Became a dramatic 180 in my life and in my career. And the spiritual transformation was that I’m going to have more faith in people than I have certainty that I’m right. And rather than convincing people to be more like me, it’s to be humble enough and curious enough about why [00:16:00] they are the way they are. And that simple revolutionary shift is ultimately what gave birth to Bridging The Gap.

Oscar Trimboli:   

Simon, can you take us into one of those conversations?

Simon Greer:     

It was with a corrections officer, was in discussion now about what we should do with people who are incarcerated. [00:16:30] There are too many people in prison. They’re not treated well in prison. We need to invest more in their, it’s called programming, educational programming, helping them be prepared for when they get out of prison. And I was talking to a corrections officer, and every indication I had was that he was against programming. He would probably call it, it’s called disparagingly among some people, hug-a-thug. If you just hug them and you’re nice to them, won’t they get their acts together? And so I was asking about programming and he [00:17:00] said, “I’m a Christian. So I know that idle hands are the devil’s playground. And I know when they’re not busy, it’s not safe. And I believe in redemption, I believe in second chances. I want them to be successful when they get out.” Stuff was not exactly what I expected as the opening.

And he said, “In many situations and in our prisons, the ratio of people who are incarcerated to corrections officers is about 100 to one.” They have 100 incarcerated [00:17:30] people to one officer. He said, “In a housing unit, there might be two officers and 200 incarcerated people. And now they want us to run a programme. They want me to leave my partner to go run this programme. Now they’re not going to pay me anything extra or give me extra training, but I’m going to go oversee this programme and leave him alone 200 to one. But we’re like the Marines. We don’t leave anyone behind. And I will never leave him alone in there. It’s not that I don’t believe in programming. I just don’t believe in the impossible [00:18:00] choices that I’ve been given.”

And he said, “And here’s the other thing. No one’s coming here offering programming for me. I didn’t get a college education. I didn’t get access to all this. No one thought about that for me. And a lot of people who’ve never been inside a prison, they think these programmes will work and this. They never ask me. I know who’s trying to game the system and who really wants an education. I know it because I work here. There’s people with all these big ideas [00:18:30] about how they want to change the system, but they don’t even think the guy who works here sometimes 16 hours a day might have a point of view about what works and what doesn’t.”

And what dawned on me was that I was one of those people who has a lot of opinions about criminal justice and what’s unjust about the system. And I almost had literally forgotten that it’s a job for 400,000 people in this country who work in those prisons, and that if we’re going to reform the prisons, which we should, [00:19:00] shouldn’t they be right alongside the incarcerated people at the centre of it? He talked about how to do that job every day. You tuck away your vulnerability. You can’t live in that environment, work in that environment, day in and day out, and just be open hearted. So you tuck it away. And what I think the heart opening for me was I don’t have to do that job so I can lead a little more vulnerably. I [00:19:30] can be open hearted and trusting because he, and many people like him, do a very dangerous job and I’m safer because of it. And instead of overlooking him, judging him, forgetting to include him, I might say, “Thank you that you’re willing to do a job I would not want to do. And you pay the price physically, also mentally and emotionally so I don’t have to. And the least I could do is really take [00:20:00] seriously how you see the world, because you’re sacrificing so much and I benefit from it. And that I had missed that for so long.”

Oscar Trimboli:        

I love the point Simon makes here about frontline workers and people on the edge of the conversation in the organisation. I encourage a lot of the leaders I work with, when was the last time you asked the customer service staff in a [00:20:30] contact centre, the production workers, the construction crew, the shop front workers, the factory workers, when was the last time you sat down with them and had a genuine conversation? When was the last time you spent time with customers and suppliers? I think for many of us, we don’t realise that people leave some listening breadcrumbs when they leave the organisation. And I’m not talking about the exit interview. [00:21:00] I think that’s quite a formal process where people honestly don’t tell you the truth.

There’s an industry that has emerged because of technology that allows people to review their own organisation. One of the things I talk to leaders about is when did you last look at your Glassdoor reviews? The Glassdoor is an organisation that allows people to review an organisation and their leader. I [00:21:30] wonder what would be on your Glassdoor review if your organisation was being reviewed, or your department, or your team. I think for a lot of us as leaders, it takes courage to have the kinds of conversations that allows our team to tell us the truth. Simon is about to discuss a really courageous conversation where he paired together some Hillary voters with some Trump voters [00:22:00] in a courageous conversation. Simon reinforces a point that we make that the best listening cultures are the best storytelling cultures, and stories can be sometimes more influential than just the facts.

Simon Greer: 

[00:22:30] What started to happen was I was listening in these conversations with people who were from a different walk of life than me. And it was changing my world. I was starting to think about things I hadn’t… It wasn’t just that I was no longer trying to convince them. I was learning that I didn’t know things. I had simplified problems and solutions, and they were complicating them. And I was no longer fighting that they would adopt my values. It was like, “Oh, that’s an important value too.” I’d go, “Huh. No, I’d overlook [00:23:00] that one.” One day. I literally said, “We should have more people engage in these courageous conversations.” I just was trying to have honest conversations with people who disagreed with each other. And I guess today that’s called Courageous Conversation.

I did this exchange programme that eventually gave birth to Bridging The Gap where we took conservative Trump supporting corrections officers from Michigan, and we teamed them up with liberal Hillary supporters from New York City. And they went and lived with each other. They [00:23:30] had these courageous conversations, and it started to develop like a practise. I started to try to unpack what is it that I’m doing differently here? So a lot of it was about listening. We started teaching listening. A lot of it was about telling stories rather than giving facts. You started teaching storytelling. A lot of it was the art of feedback. Not blurring that I disagree with you, but how do I do that constructively?

And so we started teaching them. So then, those were the foundational skills of how to have courageous conversations. And there was this [00:24:00] deeper invitation. I just scribbled it one day as part of inviting people to a meeting. And then it became our hallmark. We say that, “We’re inviting you in a conversation where we’re going to take seriously the things that others hold dear. If it matters to you, it’s going to matter to me,” because often we skip that part, right? Like, “No, I want to talk about my thing and I’m not going to take seriously your thing.” And then that, “We’re not going to try to convince you you’re wrong or try to change you. We’re going to be curious why you think the way you think,” which was a 180 from [00:24:30] how I had lived my career, but I stopped. I let go of, “I’m going to try to change you.”

I actually think people are more likely to change once you stop trying to change them. I’m not here to change anybody. “I’m just, I’m here to listen. I’m going to be curious why you think the way you think, and I’m going to believe that there’s more common ground than we might expect, but in some cases there won’t be. And even when there isn’t, I can respect you.” And then this part I added at the end, “But I can even love you when we have fundamental [00:25:00] disagreements.” And people are like, “You can’t put love in that, and you’re selling out, and you’re going to tolerate the racists.” And, “Well, if we’re not making change, what are we doing?” And I heard all that, but I actually thought, I was like, “Well, if we don’t love the people, I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere. And if we don’t take seriously the things that they care about, why would they take seriously anything you care about? And if convincing them was so easy, we would have won. [00:25:30] But I just want to understand them.”

That became the invitation and then the building blocks of Courageous Conversations. And then, through my friends at the Nantucket Project, I got these interesting opportunities, particularly with Sean Spicer, right after he left The White House, and then with Glenn Beck, to have these very hard conversations across lines of difference, which we called Courageous Conversations. And all of that then eventually gave birth to Bridging The Gap, which is the campus [00:26:00] application of all that work.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Simon, can you, with me, explore this tension between listening to differences versus listening for differences?

Simon Greer:        

In the Jewish tradition, there’s these two kinds of arguments, arguments for the sake of self, or arguments for the sake of Heaven. In arguments for the sake [00:26:30] of self, I’m trying to win to make my point. The arguments for the sake of Heaven, essentially, I’m trying to illuminate the truth. The rabbis who are having those arguments for the sake of illuminating truth, they have a shared tradition. And I think one of the things that challenges us sometimes in listening is we don’t trust that the tradition I think I’m in and the tradition you think you’re in have enough respect that they can co-exist. And so, why would I listen carefully, right? If I think you just [00:27:00] want to annihilate me? But I think in the framework of the argument for the sake of Heaven, the way I was originally taught and worked for decades, I pause my tirade long enough, and I listen to you carefully enough, so I can effectively reload and destroy whatever point it was you made. I did that, and I was pretty good at it for a long time.

The problem is it just ends up with everything blown up and it doesn’t yield that much change, I fear. In this approach, [00:27:30] I come in believing that… I sometimes talk about this as strong back, soft front. I have some pretty deep clarity about my core values and how I try to conduct myself in the world, but I don’t need to be aggressive with it. I don’t need to… I’m not so afraid of its fragility that I need to knock you out first. And so I can listen with some confidence in who I am. I have some faith in [00:28:00] people, and what most deeply animates us, and now I can listen because I know there’s big pieces of this puzzle I can’t see. I want to hear how you think about it.

And I guess, to your point, I don’t just want to hear where we disagree. I then want to mine it for everything I can. Like, “How deeply do you believe that? Where did you come to believe that? Who did you hear that story from? Where did you read about that? Why does [00:28:30] it matter to you?2 That’s what I want to understand about the differences, because sometimes we’re not that different, right? We had similar experiences, you just made different meaning out of it. Sometimes we are really, really different. You’re a really good person too, and you do the best you can as a dad, and you just really see this stuff so differently. If you see difference slash disagreement as a threat, then you’re going to handle it in one way. If you see it as a gift, then you’re going to handle it in another.

[00:29:00] In workplace settings, actually, I’ve argued for a long time that the wisdom that the main stream of the company needs often lives in the margins of the company. But the main stream doesn’t know how to access it, because in essence, it’s signalled, “Don’t rock the boat. Don’t tell us that. Don’t upset the boss or the boss’s boss.” And so there’s all the answers lurking in the margins. We could fix production if we just listened to them. We could change [00:29:30] the marketing if we just listened to them. But we signalled to them, “Really, don’t say it.” That’s a case where, if you could change that culture so that the differences of opinion, and experience, and perspective of those people came to be invited into the main stream, those differences would literally be gifts to the bottom line. Gifts, but they’re treated like they’re threats. And so they’re escorted out more often than they’re welcomed in.

Oscar Trimboli:   

[00:30:00] Simon, let’s talk about Bridging The Gap. How did it start? And how’s it going now?

Simon Greer:  

We did this exchange I talked about between the New Yorkers and the Michiganders, and that took on some very interesting twists and turns. I’d say one of the most moving parts was after the terrorist attack at the Tree Of Life Synagogue, [00:30:30] three of the corrections officers from Michigan, who they were all Christian and the New York group was all Jewish, they flew to New York on Shabbat two weeks after the Tree Of Life shooting. And they read a letter as conservatives about standing with the Jewish family they felt they had built through this exchange. And it isn’t common practise to give standing ovations in synagogue. People don’t clap, but they got a standing [00:31:00] ovation. And when they came, a member of the synagogue hosted them, one of them, the night they stayed over in New York. He said to me afterwards, his name’s Dan Zucker, he asked if I’d ever thought about doing this on a college campus. I said, “No, but I’m open.” So Dan had gone… He was an alumnus of Oberlin, and had a daughter in Oberlin, or maybe two. And one of the people who had come from Michigan, his brother was a student at Spring Arbour university.

And so Dan said, “Let’s try to [00:31:30] do this on a college campus.” I said, “I’m happy to give it a shot.” We pulled together Spring Arbour and Oberlin because we have those connections to do the first pilot. This past year, we did a pair of campuses, two schools January a year ago. So 18 months ago, I guess. This past year, January through May, we did nine campuses. Despite COVID, I would say it’s growing, which was not easy to pull off. And I definitely think we lost something by doing it virtually, but we did it. And I think the demand [00:32:00] is really growing for next year. So I imagine we’ll try to do 20 schools next year.

The thing that is worth sharing is that I didn’t mean to shift to work a lot in higher education. It wasn’t really my interest. As I said, I just wanted to do this experiment. But the students captured my heart and captured my imagination because for all the talk on evangelical campuses and super liberal campuses, that there is a cancel culture, or [00:32:30] call out culture, and it gets in the way of the free exchange of ideas. I think that’s true. But it’s not what students want. They want something richer, but it’s like culture in a corporate environment, or any, sometimes it’s really hard to get your hands on why is this culture this way? And what would you do to change it? And these students want something different. They want to go deeper. They want to really solve problems, not just grand stand. They want to understand. And so there is something about the investing [00:33:00] in these young people who will be our future leaders, and who are in such a tough spot, and want something different. If I could help be of service there, that would be a highest and best use of my time.

Oscar Trimboli:   

Is there a story that really stands out?

Simon Greer:  

I walked onto spring Arbor’s Campus. It’s a free Methodist school, evangelical Christian in rural Michigan. And I just assumed, “Shame on me that they’re all going to be white.” [00:33:30] And the first students I met were all African American, and I was like, “Oh, huh, you can be an evangelical Christian in rural Michigan and being an African American woman. That’s not what I pictured. Oops.” So there’s things like that every day. We did a follow on programme at Oberlin this past year where we taught a class about racism and antisemitism. And there was a student in that programme who… A student of colour, and she, as part [00:34:00] of her project for our course, she went and did one-on-one conversations, five, six or seven Jewish people in her life who she had never talked with about antisemitism. And she came back with this deep, thoughtful understanding, as an Asian American woman, how some of the struggles she has about where she fits and doesn’t fit, she now saw that her Jewish friends also had some things that… Of course it’s different because being Jewish and being Asian are different in America, [00:34:30] and they’re different. But there was more common ground than she had thought. And she is not someone who would ever thought really about antisemitism before.

There was the two students, one from one of evangelical schools, one from one of the more liberal schools. And the guy from a more liberal school, he was really at odds politically with this guy from the more conservative school. But he was sharing something with them about a struggle he was having. And the more conservative student spontaneously said something like, “Well, I’m going to pray for you.” [00:35:00] And he did. And this was unbeknownst to all of us. This happened off in Zoom-land. And in the last session, when people were talking about their highlights, the more liberal student said how deeply it touched him. He’s not someone who has a prayer practise, but that this person he had just met, who saw that this person was struggling, just decided he would pray for him.

And I think what meant so much to [00:35:30] me about it was that the more liberal student took it to heart in such a way. He wasn’t dismissive of prayer. Like, “I don’t believe.” He let it in, he let it touch him. And he saw that there was something beautiful in this conservative Christian worldview, that if you care about someone and they’re in pain, you pray. And that in this liberal ethos, maybe there wasn’t a comparable offering. It isn’t just [00:36:00] that we should tolerate that, “Oh, they pray.” It’s like there’s a function of that kind of an offering and you don’t have to believe in God, or you do believe in God, and it doesn’t have to be a prayer. But there’s something about that inclination, that, “I care about you and I want to express it this way,” is something that we’d all be better off if we had a little more of that in our lives, however we choose to do it.

I think in all these cases, it was something about the way they… It [00:36:30] works. If you listen, if you share your story, if you give feedback skillfully, something gets touched and open that allows you to access the wisdom, the beauty, the power, the connection that you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. And each story, and it’s every campus, every time there are stories of people, whether it’s them blossoming in leadership or feeling like they can speak on a topic that they’ve never spoken about, or that they can disclose that they have a point of view that’s different than others and that that’s [00:37:00] welcome, just over and over again. And that’s why I stick with it, I think, because of the every time. Even when I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know if that worked so well.”

I facilitated this conversation for these eight students at Spring Arbour, four who were pro-life and four who were pro-choice. It’s almost like I want to ring the bell. That is not easy. It is an evangelical school. So for four students who were pro-choice to say, “I’m pro choice,” that risks social isolation. But we helped create a culture where they could. [00:37:30] And then we trained them a little bit. We structured the conversation so they were able to practise, like, “I disagree with you.” This is what they each had to do. They had to each tell stories about how they came to see this issue the way they saw it. And then a student with a different viewpoint had to try to say, “While I disagree with you, I understand why, from your point of view, that thing would really matter.” And it was [00:38:00] like, “Well, if we could just do that in our government, we might actually solve some problems.”

I think what’s happened is we’ve created the other, and we don’t think we need to listen to them. And we actually think we’re in a state of perpetual war. So when we are arguing about… I believe it’s true with pro-life and pro-choice, I believe it’s true with climate change, with racial justice, and law and order, that we’ve lost the spirit that we’re [00:38:30] fellow Americans who have some big problems, and we’re going to sit down together and try to solve them. And I don’t mean to minimise that there are fundamental disagreements, and being too patient, and too slow, and kumbaya, and mushy middle doesn’t get us anywhere. So I’m not saying that. And I would hate to be dismissed as someone who thinks that it’s all about soft mushy compromise because I don’t. But instead of looking at these problems and bringing our best solution [00:39:00] set to them, it’s like the issue is the battlefield on which we seek to vanquish our mortal enemies.

If we wanted to solve the racial justice, law and order tension, you would acknowledge that you can’t have law and order without racial justice, and you can’t have racial justice without law and order. And if you want an alternative to police intervening in a mental health crisis in a community, in an apartment building, you’d get some social workers, and some residents, and some police, and you’d think [00:39:30] together. Well, that’s complicated, because if you send a social worker, and the mentally unstable husband has a knife, you actually would like a policeman there. But if you send a policeman into a crowded apartment building, and all he’s got is a gun, it’s not going to go well. You don’t need to be ideological, right? But you could then listen to, “Well, what would the social worker do? What would the police officers do? What would the tenant do?” And through the listening, you’d actually solve the problem, I believe. You’d come up with a good set of solutions or at least experiments. But we’re not trying to solve them. We’re trying [00:40:00] to fight the issue. We’re trying to defeat our foe. And so we don’t want to listen to what they know. We want to prove to our team that our foes are irredeemable. And I think that’s… It goes back to your opening question. I think that’s the crisis.

Oscar Trimboli:  

I knew this conversation would be special, [00:40:30] paradoxical, and testing me. I love how open ended Simon left the conversation. And I also love that he has a fundamental belief in people, and that if you put people together with the right tools, and the right frameworks, and a right kind of guidance, you can disagree and still listen to the other person. One of the things I took away from Simon’s conversation today [00:41:00] was the difference between arguing for truth or arguing for victory. He got me researching a little bit more about the Jewish Torah and the story of the Korach in terms of arguing for truth or victory. I discovered a resource from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. He explains that the argument for the sake of victory in a conflict, it’s not for the sake of truth. [00:41:30] It’s for the sake of power. And the result is that both sides suffer. The rabbi says, “If you win, I lose. But if I win, I also lose because I’m diminishing you. And in diminishing you, I diminish myself.”

The argument for the sake of power is a lose, lose scenario. The rabbi continues and says, “The opposite is the case when the [00:42:00] argument is for the sake of the truth.” He says, “If I win, I win. But if I lose, I also win because I’m being defeated by the truth. And it’s the only form of defeat that is also a victory.” Since this interview with Simon, I’ve spent so much time thinking about arguing for truth as arguing for victory. And [00:42:30] I love the point that Jonathan made. It wasn’t until he realised that he was listening while reloading his argument, only the fire back at the other person.

I wonder what you’ll take away from today’s conversation. And more specifically, think of the conversation you’ve got coming up shortly where you anticipate you may be in disagreement. Think about [00:43:00] asking for more stories, and not that facts are unimportant, but I think too much time we spend time only with facts. And when we discover the stories that connect to the person’s argument, we may have a moment of pause to listen to their argument. It’s not that your mind is going to be changed. It’s just, you acknowledge that there are differences. I think it’s no coincidence that the best [00:43:30] listening cultures are the best storytelling cultures, whether that’s in ancient or modern traditions.

And finally, how does a backstory create the connective tissue between the past, and the present, and the future? I’m so glad that I stayed with Jonathan, where he took me all the way back to his parents, sailing out of England to arrive in the US because it gave me a great sense [00:44:00] of his place in the context of his family’s history and traditions, and the logical connection that that made by telling a story. I love his point about do you see disagreement as a gift or a threat? I’m Oscar Trimboli and I’m on a quest to create 100 million deep listeners in the world, and you’ve given me the greatest gift of all. You’ve listened [00:44:30] to me. Thanks for listening. Hey, Simon. Just separately, if we did this interview all over again, what’s the one question I should’ve asked that I didn’t?

Simon Greer:    

I think it’s something about the cost or the loss of taking [00:45:00] this approach, or the self doubt about taking this approach. The self doubt is that there’s bad things happening and saying, “Well, we should just listen to them more,” it just sounds ridiculous to me. It’s like, “Really? Did you just say that, Simon? No, you don’t. You shut it down. You stop it.” And so, I’ve come to say more and more, “Safety and security matter.” You don’t have a conversation just all the time. You get safe, right? Now, the caveat is, in some contexts, people [00:45:30] now think an idea I disagree with makes me unsafe. And I don’t sanction that. Disagreeable ideas are not dangerous to me, right? You can just think the world looks different than I do. It’s flat, it’s round. I’m not unsafe because of that.

But if you are threatening me, I need to get out of there before I talk about a conversation. So I think part of my feeling is like, “Is it naïve? Is it silly? There are powerful forces out there [00:46:00] sewing division and reaping the benefit of it. And I want us to listen better.” There’s a part of me that thinks, “Not this time round.” So that’s my self doubt talking, but that’s serious. And so how to be effective in making change, but honouring that with the curiosity and the humility that goes with it, I think that’s cost me some relationships where people are like, “I don’t want to deal with him anymore,” or-


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