Listening to people who disagree with your life choices

One morning I was out walking to the shops in the cute beach town we’ve semi-settled in.

I was lost in thought, thinking about how to make this a good day when I bumped into a friend.

We started with the same pleasantries all friends do, not really saying anything, but reinforcing that connection. It felt nice.

When almost immediately she decides to tell me, emphatically, that I need to change my son’s educational course. It’s a good, valid reason, it’s an idea I had mulled over too in the past.

But it directly contradicts what I have been doing with him, and it contradicts what I believe in my heart about his education.

So naturally, I feel triggered.

A cascade of thoughts so familiar to parents, arises: Am I doing the wrong thing with my kids? Should I be doing something else? Have I made the wrong choice?

And the most uncomfortable one:

Am I screwing up my kids?

I then remember something I saw on Facebook earlier:

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey

And so I try to allow the opinion of my friend to just sit with me, to not judge it or be defensive of it. I try to just allow it to sit as an idea.

Because when we hear something we don’t like, or don’t really agree with, it’s so easy to just jump into a volley of defensiveness.

We hear: you’re doing this wrong or I don’t agree and we stop listening and start defending our position.

But that is just a route to pain – a route to feeling separate or wronged.  Most of the time people are just expressing their ideas about their own beliefs. Which, of course, we are all entitled to, right?

In fact when I can listen without judgment,  I can open myself up to hearing possible good ideas, or hear people’s care and love, or their passion for their beliefs.

My child’s course in life is worth more than my defensiveness. And I want to be completely open to all ideas, all paths.

After a while my friend and I part. Saying nice, simple things – ignoring the complexity of thoughts the conversation triggered in me.

I look at the deep bluey-green sea, I listen to the crash of waves and I think about all the feelings and thoughts churning around in me.

To make choices for another human is hard. To make life-altering choices for a human you love more than anything else in the world is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

I am happy to screw up my life. But I would be crushed if I messed up their lives.

I decided to feel compassionate towards myself.

This is tough Di! I say to myself. It’s OK to feel conflicted.

I allow everything to just be – refusing to judge my friend, or myself.

This morning I wake, and realise – yes, we have chosen an educational path for him. That is working. We don’t need to change it, not right now.

But I can still keep myself open to other options, other ideas.

I can listen without defensiveness.

And it felt really good.