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Simply put, there is nothing, nothing in the world, that can take the place of one person intentionally listening or speaking to another. —Jacob Needleman

If we don't listen, how will we understand?

This way to “practice democracy” is adapted from an exercise Jacob Needleman (The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders) has used in his philosophy classes. He describes it not as an instrument of reconciliation but as a means of studying and understanding what it really means to listen to another human being.

When in conversation with another person (especially someone with whom you disagree), commit to this condition: You will only express your own view after you have faithfully summarized what the other has just said.

Afterwards, debrief the experience together. Needleman reports two common results from practicing mirroring. One, participants discover that while they may deny another’s views, they cannot deny the other’s humanity. And second, even though their views have not changed, they have been compelled for a brief moment to take a distance from their passionately held opinions in order to be able to summarize what the other has said. This enabled them to think more clearly and deeply about their own views. And so, this exercise is also an exercise in the work of thinking, thinking together with another human being. 

In partnership with our friends at Spirituality & Practice, we are sharing practices to help us all “practice democracy” from the inside out. Visit Spirituality & Practice's The Practicing Democracy Project for more practices and a wide array of resources.


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Spirituality & Practice (S&P) is a multi-faith website devoted to resources for spiritual journeys. While respecting differences among traditions, S&P celebrates what they share in common.