Speaking to Those Who Don’t Listen ~ 17th Karmapa

People in the part of Tibet that I come from are called Khampas, and we Khampas have a reputation for being stubborn and unwilling to listen to others’ view. There used to be a saying in Tibetan: “Khampas have their ears on their bottoms”, meaning you get to listen not by speaking to us, but by smacking us. This may be said jokingly, but there is a certain grain of truth in it. Khampa culture often displays a reluctance to open to others’ views, as do other cultures, too, of course. We sometimes meet people who seem so deaf to divergent opinions that we may wonder where their ears are – and not only among us Khampas!.

When we do encounter people we find to be arrogant or hardheaded, there is a tendency to want to break through their resistance by being forceful with them. Similarly, when faced with someone who is angry, we often feel that we should not be soft or gentle, for fear that they will ignore us or even take our gentleness for weakness and attack us. I think we ought to consider carefully whether this is really the right approach. If you add your own anger to another person’s, it just results in more anger – and makes it harder to find a shared way forward another.

As we see, various emotional forces can keep people from listening to views that differ from their own. Stubbornness is one. A temporary upheaval of anger is another. We need to find ways to interact productively with people who are unable or unwilling to broaden their thinking in order to take in others’ perspectives. In such cases, it is up to us to find a healthy way to relate to their vantage point.


17th Karmapa

from the book The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out


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