I’ll be unusually interested in others.
Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.
— Simone Weil
Think about the times when you’ve been on the receiving end of positive, specific, welcome attention … the sort of attention that made you feel in that moment like the most important person in the room — because someone asked a question in a way that made you the only person who could answer it.
Most of us don’t have an overabundance of such memories to draw on, which is why the ones we have tend stay with us forever — a teacher who encouraged us, a friend’s parent who made us feel welcome, a college roommate who introduced us to her friends — all filed away in a mental folder titled “Impossible To Forget.”
Jim Henderson says, “Ira Glass is the creator and host of the wildly popular radio show and podcast This American Life. Ira is a fascinating person, but the habit he practices that I’m most interested in is his curiosity.
On the radio, Ira comes across as a genuinely curious person. I wanted to know if that was how he was in real life, so I asked him.
“Ira laughed. ‘Of course I’m curious! I mean, how fake would it be for me to ask questions and not really mean them? Don’t you think people would pick up on that?’ Of course they would.”
Most of us learn to spot fake interest from a mile away. We learn to recognize sincerity, too. And we’re drawn to others who genuinely seeks to understand us. In the 3 Practices, we try to begin every questions with the words, “I’d be curious to know….”
THE FIRST PRACTICE IS ABOUT GENUINE CURIOSITY
I’ll stay in the room with difference.
When you discover I voted for the wrong person, does that mean we have to break up?
If The 3 Practices had to be reduced to one idea it would be Staying in the room with difference.
Even a glance at the cultural landscape is likely to make people feel a little unsteady on that proposition. Staying in the room with difference is what folks are learning to avoid in the isolation of made-to-order social media echo chambers and narrowcast media. Somehow it just seems safer to seek the company of our own kind.
But, inevitably, that safe feeling passes … replaced by suspicion, anxiety, fear, anger…. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that being divided isn’t safer at all.
As Kathryn Schultz puts it: “Imagination is that which enables us to . . . enjoy stories other than our own. …Empathy is that which enables us to take those stories seriously.” Imagining and practicing fresh ways of crossing the Difference Divide — and living to tell about it — is what the 3 Practices are all about.
THE SECOND PRACTICE MEANS GETTING IN THE ROOM AND STAYING IN THE ROOM
I’ll Stop comparing my best with your worst.
“I don’t have the time to get to know every person I encounter in the course of my daily life. So thank goodness I have a handy little device at my disposal that helps me know how to deal with just about anyone I come across: stereotypes. Yes, stereotypes are a real time-saver!”
— The Onion
Not seeing something that appears obvious to someone else is not, in and of itself, a moral failing.
While listening to another person describe what they see, it may dawn on us that, just as they’re not seeing what we see, we’re not seeing what they see.
Which is a useful reminder that what two individuals see depends in part on where they’re standing — and raises the possibilities that 1) neither may have a perfectly unobstructed view, and 2) one may have a clearer view or a better angle than the other.
3Practice Circles routinely close with an invitation to thank someone in the circle. People often express gratitude for the courteous, thought-provoking questions they were asked. And some go a step farther — like the man who ended his thank-yous by saying, “I realized during this group that I sometimes think things are facts that might not actually be facts at all. I need to think about that more.”
In effect, what that’s saying is, “Let me come stand where you’re standing, and see if I see the same thing. And then we’ll talk about it.”
THE THIRD PRACTICE REPLACES PRETENTIOUS CERTAINTY WITH HONEST EXPLORATION
See How You Can Operationalize the 3Practices
The 3Practices aren’t aspirational or inspirational … we can find plenty of that on YouTube. The 3Practices are are a delivery system for clarity, understanding, and civility when we don’t agree.
1. I’ll be unusually interested in the other
2. I’ll stay in the room with difference
3. I’ll stop comparing my best with your worst