by Jovel Queirolo, ’14
Before last Wednesday, I believed that interfaith dialogue could go one of two ways. It was either a time spent sharing praise and false curiosity in an attempt to avoid more charged discussion topics, or the conversation would quickly dissolve into a vicious screaming match.
My weekly meetings as part of the Fellowship for Religious Encounter (FRE) only reinforced this perspective. I would enjoy a dinner generously provided by our mentors and the Office for Religious Life, then spend the next hour disagreeing, agreeing, arguing, and refuting. I quickly attached myself to members of the collective who shared views similar to my own and distanced myself from those whose politics I disagreed with.
But last Wednesday, we broke through the layers of awkward silence and fiery debate. We finally listened to each other.
Our mentor, Rev. Scotty McLennan, sat us down in our usual circle. But before we began our topic of “How religious and political identities interact,” he gave us one condition–Before you speak, you have to summarize whatever the speaker before you says.
The room went quiet. One of the more outgoing graduate students in our cohort spoke first, but I felt myself listening more closely than usual – just in case I needed to respond. He spoke slower, as if he knew we were listening more intently than usual. I really concentrated on listening. I didn’t have to respond because his reasoning was sound. The next person spoke, and the next. I noticed that individuals that usually like to argue for the sake of argument didn’t speak as many times. They were careful in their summaries before bringing up counterpoints that more directly responded to the questions that arose.
While the conversation went slowly, we were all on the same page. I could look across the room and see someone I would usually immediately disagree with, and see them as someone with the ability to listen and to understand where I’m coming from. We were forced to put our own thoughts and prejudices aside and listen.
Our small cohort may not be radically affecting change, but I felt in that moment an immense sense of healing. To truly listen is to be able to prove that we have heard. It’s hard to do, but the next time you are confronted with someone you don’t usually agree with, try and piece together what they’re saying and make sure you understand what exactly it is they’re trying to say instead of using that time to craft a pithy rebuttal. If all our activist spaces could be infused with the importance of listening, then perhaps we would achieve more effective and empowering work.
Jovel Queirolo is a sophomore from the San Francisco Bay Area hoping to major in Biology with a minor in education. She is interested in the intersections of the sciences and the humanities–particularly the patterns and themes that emerge and reoccur in both. Through reflection, public service, and activism she envisions a world invested in social healing and wellbeing.