Monday, July 5, 2010

The power of listening

In the heat of battle, we don't often think kindly of "the enemy." Although we may intellectually recognize that the other side is suffering, we harden our hearts to their tribulations, some of which we may have caused and can readily justify.

A hard heart is not always our best ally. It can blind us to the motives of our adversary and obscure our understanding of the reality in which he or she operates. It is not necessary that we agree or sympathize with our opponent, but it is foolish not to understand him or her. When we cut ourselves off from our natural tendency to feel compassion for others -- including our ex-spouse -- we reduce our effectiveness because we insulate ourselves from valuable information. Conflict polarizes us, so it's not surprising that we rarely see the whole picture.

Compassion is not the same as sentimentality. Rather, it is the discipline to resonate with another person, to feel what she feels, to connect, to move beyond the limitations of our own prejudices and opinions. It guards us against hurting ourselves through our unwillingness to hurt others. But compassion does not mean that we should surrender to their desires or exhibit weakness. It simply means that we will not stop being human just because we are engaged in conflict.

Conflict takes place in an environment of mistrust. Compassion helps to restore some measure of basic trust so that some form of functional communication can take place. When that communication occurs, we usually will learn something essential for the resolution of the matter. We already know what we think. Compassion allows us to understand what they think, and why.
By Brian Muldoon

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For more information, contact the Family Law Offices of Renee M. Marcelle at (415) 456-4444, or online at

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