2017 Peace Novena Day 8: Listening with Discernment vs Judgment

Day 8: Discernment Versus Judgment

On this second-to-last day of prayer, I pray that we – and all our elected officials – can begin to listen to one another with discernment and hope; and that bitterness is overwhelmed by compassion.


Listening with discernment rather than judgment is one of the greatest gifts we can give to each other. The difference between discernment and judgment is subtle but important.

Listening with discernment

When listening with discernment, we recognize and understand the differences between what the speaker is saying and what we hold to be true.

We respect their right to have their view; we are not threatened by the differences. We don’t believe that the speaker is ignorant, unreasonable, or too foolish for words.

Listening with discernment requires:

  • an open heart
  • respect for the other (no matter their age, gender, or religious or political affiliation)
  • the realization that speaker’s truth is just that – one person’s truth not the ultimate truth

This kind of listening opens up the conversation for a lively exchange of ideas, the potential for learning something new, and having our own ideas challenged.

Listening with judgment

When we listen with judgment, our own opinion is so pronounced that we can’t recognize any truth in the speaker’s words. In fact, we’re really not listening at all because as the other person speaks, we’re forming our counter argument and lining up the ramparts of our defense.

We assume that the other person is too conservative, too liberal, too religious, too young, too immature, too uninformed,  too . . .too. . .too. . . And we’re waiting for them to finish so we can enlighten them.

Listening with judgment shuts down the conversation before there is any hope of creating real understanding.

Why We Listen With Judgment

The simple answer is that we’re biased. Bias is actually essentially good. It helps us categorize all sorts of things in our information-drenched world. Without some sort of bias, we’d have no mental shortcuts to help us make sense of our environment.

We are born with our unique orientation to the world

Bias comes from our unique experiences that flow from our basic orientation to the world, our cultural and familial influences, our location – where we’re born/where we live(d), our interests, knowledge, habits, beliefs, and more. With all these things, we create a personal truth about how the world operates and our place in it. And since our experiences are unique, our truth is also unique.

In today’s internet-ruled media world, we easily find others who support our biases and reinforce the notion that our truth is THE truth. They normalize judgmental listening. We see the effects of this in the extreme dysfunction in politics. But the most unfortunate effects occur in our families.

The Grace in Being Wrong

In our families, we can believe that our shared experiences means that we have a shared truth. Disagreements can build a nearly impenetrable wall of judgment. We lose sight of the uniqueness of the other, assuming we know WHY they do what they do or say what they say.

Yet without discerning listening, we can’t know because we’re not listening with our hearts. We hear the words they speak but we don’t hear their truth because we’re too busy listening to our own.

When we can admit the possibility of being wrong – and even more striking that they may be right – we begin to listen with discernment. This simple loving act opens the door to understanding.

Understanding paves the way to acceptance.

Acceptance builds the bridges that create peace.


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