Marilyn Nyborg: The lost art of listening |

Marilyn Nyborg: The lost art of listening

Politics and religion and the media who interpret them for us impact our lives. And yet, we tend to avoid conversation on these topics, limiting our communication to immediate needs, family or things.

We lose the opportunities to have conversations about really important topics.

Many of us have ignored politics for most of our lives and are now watching the landscape change so drastically that our lifestyles and expectations of a free society feel threatened.

When we do engage, we find our fears, frustration and anger getting the best of us. Rather than ask questions or listen, we tend to prepare our comeback, quote “our” facts and leave feeling worse than when we began.

We can explore our common concerns rather than focus on our differences.

Joan Blades felt that way in 2011. Co-founder of, she recognized the bubble she lived in, surrounded by like-minded people with the same concerns, upsets, fears and frustrations that she had. In an “ah ha” moment, she decided she wanted to know more about the people she did not agree with. How did they come to their conclusions? What did they have in common with one another?

From these questions Living Room Conversations were birthed. She invited people of all backgrounds and diversity to meet for two hours and work with a structured process that allowed everyone to be heard uninterrupted.

Living Room Conversations and Listening Cafes have come to Nevada County. One of many actions teams within Indivisible Women of Nevada County, 15 to 20 women have worked with the material, practiced the program and are willing to facilitate them when they are invited.

Living Room Conversations is not about changing minds but connecting hearts. Those of us working with the material are amazed at how quickly we can transform strangers to friends. How open we find ourselves when the environment is safe; we don’t have to debate or argue our positions. Whether we find ourselves with like-minded people or conservatives, the process moves us into deeper sharing. provides a safe format for over 60 current topics. Any group can follow the “five rounds” of sharing, beginning with introductions and getting to know one another. For example: What would your best friend say about who you are and what makes you tick? What is your mission or purpose in life? Then you move into topic specific questions.

What people find amazing about being in a Living Room Conversation, is rather than pulling on what we think we know, facts and beliefs, we are often amazed listening to ourselves say what surfaced from someplace inside of us. Our commonalities surprise us. We actually have a respectful conversation without interruptions or arguments.

We find ourselves laughing together, the “other” disappears.

I have learned a different way of looking at things, new perspectives. People may not change my mind but I see in the them my own passion, fears and concerns and our sameness. Fears lessen, anger softens, and relationships can expand to include rather than exclude.

We can explore our common concerns rather than focus on our differences.

Marilyn Nyborg lives in Grass Valley.

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