Q & A with Thich Nhat Hanh: Compassionate Listening

Q:  I’ve been practicing compassionate listening but it is very difficult to listen to people who rant and rave.  How long is it necessary to practice compassionate listening?

A:  Many people feel the need to talk all the time.  This has become a habit for them.  Although their friends may have already heard what they are saying, they keep repeating the same things over and over again.  The true practice of deep listening is something that can help people say the things they have never been able to say.  The most precious opportunity is to be heard by someone who has the capacity for deep listening; it can bring people great relief.  But in this case such deep listening is not helpful, because this person is not saying anything new; he is repeating the same thing.  And that same thing is watering the negative seeds in him and in us.  So allowing this practice to continue doesn’t help either person.
We have to say, “Dear friend, I have already heard what you are saying.  There’s no use in repeating the same thing over and over again.  You know there are blocks of suffering within you.  But you haven’t had the opportunity to recognize them, to look deeply into them and find out the source that nourishes those blocks of suffering; that is why you haven’t been able to transform.  That is why your suffering continues to be expressed in a way that can make you suffer and make the people around you suffer.  So the solution is not to talk about it, but to recognize these blocks of suffering and to find out the causes, the kinds of food that have brought them about in you.  Recognizing suffering and cutting off the source of suffering is our practice.  And I’d like to help you, my dear to do so.  Because I have done the same thing for myself, I’ve been able to free myself.  I’ve embraced them and looked deeply into them.  I’ve found their foundation, their roots, and I’ve practices in order to stop nourishing them, so that I can transform.  I would like to help you to see you are doing the same thing, and I will do everything in my power to help you.”

With loving speech, we can encourage our friends to begin the practice, to embrace their suffering, look deeply into the nature of the suffering, and begin the work of transformation and healing.