Listening with the intent to understand

By Ruwan Teodros


Tristam Sparks/Flickr)
(Tristam Sparks/Flickr)

Coming to college was a shock to my system – not just because there were endless amounts of pizza and ice cream shoved in my face (hello, freshman 30. The freshman 15 is a lie, I promise you).

At my relatively small high school community in Beirut, Lebanon, my friends and I all developed similar opinions and thoughts on a number of social issues, the top of the list being politics.

For example, if you were to ask any of my friends from home, every single one of them would consider themselves to be pro-Palestinian. This is a stance that I would proudly defend any day and have found myself heatedly discussing on numerous occasions throughout my life. I recognize my own bias when it comes to the Israeli occupation of Palestine – I grew up right next to it.

At the University of Massachusetts, this is not the case. I have heard countless opinions on the Palestinian-Israeli situation that are not in agreement with mine. At first, any time I heard a contradiction to my opinion, I was livid.

But coming to UMass taught me to realize that not everyone is going to have the same opinions as me – as a matter of fact, almost no one has the exact same mindset as myself. This irked me. I grew up in my bubble, as everyone else did, and believed the way I thought was the only way to think.

With the presidential primaries nearing, my friends and I have found ourselves debating the merits of the various candidates. Do you “Feel the Bern,” or want to “Make America Great Again?” Are we ready for our first female president? Are we going to vote another Bush into the White House? Will Ben Carson be the second African-American president in history? These are all questions that make their rounds time and time again during late night conversations among my group of friends.

Usually, I will give my input here and there, but I have started to really enjoy listening. I nod my head once in a while and give some vocal support when needed, but I mostly remain quiet. For those who know me, they will be surprised at this; I am usually the loudest in the room, disrupting everyone’s train of thought far too often.

However, what college has taught me (not including anything from my general education requirement classes – that goes in one ear and goes out the other) is that I have to listen first and talk after.

I used to listen to people’s opinions that were different from mine and immediately begin to formulate a rebuttal in my mind.  I was demolishing their argument bit by bit in a matter of seconds. It never crossed my mind to just listen to their opinion without fighting it.

Now, although I find myself on the Democratic side of the political spectrum, I am willing to hear what people who have placed their support in Republican candidates have to say. You will now see me sitting at Berkshire, calmly listening to a Trump vs. Bernie conversation instead of making sure that everyone in the vicinity knew how displeased I was with a few statements that Trump has made recently.

This doesn’t mean that I have sacrificed my opinions in an attempt to placate others, but that I have learned to appreciate and understand that people think differently from myself. Trust me, I am not a brand new woman – I can still be quite obtuse at times.

Nevertheless, I have learned to listen with the intent to understand instead of reply – and my life is so much better for it.

Ruwan Teodros is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]