Listening Well:  Are You Liberal or Conservative?


It seems as though the political landscape is becoming increasingly polarized these days.  If you are somewhat of an open-minded progressive, then you will find that conservatives seem to be an awfully “dull lot.”  They have their positions on abortion and gay marriage, and there seems to be no “wiggle room.”  Issues seem black-and-white and solved.

If you are a conservative, then you might find that progressives are “wishy-washy” individuals who “cherry pick” from Church teaching.  They seem to practice only those views which they themselves agree with.  What’s more, you may think that, at bottom, such individuals are eroding at the foundations of the Church.

Now one may vehemently disagree with such labels as “progressive” or “conservative,” saying that these categories don’t really apply in the real world.  We are all complex and a mixed bag of different positions.

Yet, as Fr. Joe Schuck once said at table, if we can see where you stand on one issue, then we can probably tell where you stand on a host of other issues.

Hence, if you are for Donald Trump, you are likely to be anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, anti-government controls over the economy etc.

Whereas if you like Trudeau, you will probably be not against abortion but more so pro-civil structures that protect women facing such a decision, you are likely to be in favour of some sort of civil version of gay marriage, and what’s more, you are probably trying to save the planet.

The two extremes are deeply polarized, and one wonders if there is any hope for reconciliation between anyone.

I remember watching a TED Talk by William Ury entitled “The Power of Listening.”  Ury is a distinguished author and co-founder of Harvard’s program on negotiation.  In the TED Talk, he speaks about the power of really listening to the other person.

That is, having the ability to set aside one’s own values and ideas and really seek to understand what the other person is trying to say to you.  This does not mean giving up your own position.  It simply means to understand genuinely and earnestly the other person’s point of view.

It is a powerful method that seems to work, as it not only gives an insight into what’s really being said, but it also builds a relationship between the listener and the speaker.  Such a relationship becomes invaluable as negotiations proceed further.

It seems that we, too, today are in need of a listening ear.  Too often while I am in front of both a conservative or a liberal, I might think “I already know this position,” “Nothing new here,” “This is all the same nonsense.”

I may block out that person’s voice by simply increasing the volume on my own.  But this is not listening.  Moreover, even if I am saying nothing externally, this does not mean I am listening either.  I could be talking to myself!

This is a challenge especially for me; however, I think it is well worth the effort, especially if it brings different groups, individuals, and entities together for the common good.  After all, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9).

Raj Vijayakumar works at the Villa St. Martin in Montreal helping with retreat work

  • Ivon Bellavance
    Posted at 07:52h, 10 July Reply

    Question for me always when im in front of conservative persons is: Why the conservative persons always afirm them opinions more loadely and insistally than progressive persons. It is look like they have fears and angry to some changes, new or different. Why there are so closed persons? Probably because conservative persons cant not live without something solid below them. They cant go and jump in trust and faith in the emptyness of God, they just cant be free. In regard of faith, the goal is standing in front of God like standing in front of mystery, in front of emptyness without any antropological projections, thats I try to do. God is just an other ! Make rules or any religious or institutional stoff more important than this is just a sign of untrust or immaturity. By my experiences, when I feel myself conservative is alway because i have some fears or angry about something. I feel that im closed, unfree or immature.

    • Kurtis Noro
      Posted at 13:34h, 10 July Reply

      Dear Ivon, There is structure in religion for a reason and that is logic. As Catholics we believe in the use of the intellect to come to the realization of God, based off of Aristotle (mostly), as seen in Thomas Aquinas who wrote the greatest collection of theology. It’s surprising that you say that conservatives can not live without something solid under them, but neither can any Catholic, for does not St.Paul say that, “together we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.”(Ephesians 2:20). The builder parables found in Luke and Matthew also support the idea of a something solid to live on. When you say you feel unfree when you are conservative about something, seems to me that you are defining your use of the word conservative, (this is done often in English to help understand the opposing opinion) but that is not the definition of it in the article. Here you are describing an emotional reaction to something, in the article liberal and conservative are used to describe a stance on economics and political beliefs. I personally do not identify as conservative or liberal.

      • Indira Noro
        Posted at 09:41h, 11 July Reply

        Good points Kurtis! Thank you for taking the time to share.

  • Marc-André Veselovsky
    Posted at 09:15h, 10 July Reply

    Raj is back! Thank you for this post. Listening is an underestimated, powerful way to love.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 15:19h, 10 July Reply

    Thank you Raj!

  • Raj
    Posted at 07:24h, 12 July Reply

    Thanks Marc Andre. Indeed listening is a form of love. Thanks Fr. Peter for the encouragement. Appreciate the responses as well! keep well gents

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