Tisha B’Av & How to Listen When You Disagree

Yesterday (13 Aug 2016) was the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av), a day of tragedy in Jewish history. A great many terrible things happened on this day, from the Jewish people in the time of Moses believing the report of the 10 Spies (leading to the decree that forbade them from entering the land of Israel), the destruction of the First AND Second Temples in Jerusalem, the crushing of the Bar Kochba revolt by Roman Emperor Hadrian… Other more recent misfortunes include the expulsion of Jews from Spain on Tisha B’Av of 1492, the breaking out of World War One in 1914 when Germany declared war on Russia (and later German resentment from this war set the stage for the Holocaust),and on the eve of Tisha B’Av 1942, the mass deportation began of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, en route to Treblinka.

It is a day of personal “tragedy” for me also – on Tisha B’Av 2013, I left my house that morning for a normal day at school only to find out I couldn’t return to my house anymore later that day for certain reasons, so I went straight to my older sister’s house from school, a bag of my clothes already waiting for me, packed by my younger sister for me. It all worked out in the end, but on that one day, it was incredibly difficult, and it since then it gave Tisha B’Av an extra layer of understanding for me: just as the Jews lost their Temple on this day, I had lost my home.

Traditionally, Jews fast on this day, to remember and feel for themselves all the sadness and pain that went on – a way to connect with their history more concretely (this year the fast was moved to Sunday, since this particular holiday is not “transferable” to Shabbat). They listen to the book of Lamentations (Eicha, in Hebrew), sit on the floor, are prohibited from joyful activities, and the list goes on (see article provided at the bottom of this entry). And finally, there is much, much talk about the given reason for all these tragedies: not loving their fellow Jew enough. There is much talk about forgiveness, and being more accepting of each other, and cultivating more love for the fellow Jew.

In line with that, I would like to share this extremely beautiful article that was shared to be recently by my friend Rivky. The original article can be found by clicking on this link, but here it is also for reading convenience:


How to Listen When You Disagree: A Lesson from the Republican National Convention (by Benjamin Mathes)

She was just staring at me.

She had something to say, and I could tell she was curious about the Free Listening sign, but she didn’t seem to have to courage to speak to me.


So, I waited. Nowhere to be, and all day to get there.

It was so hot outside.

Finally, she walked up, and like a young warrior preparing for battle, she said:

 “I don’t usually do this, and I know this isn’t a hot button topic anymore… But, I think abortion is wrong. It’s not a form of birth control, and people who have them should be arrested for murder.”

Most protesters at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland were yelling about Donald Trump—for or against—all part of this beautiful circus of free speech.

She was different. There was no circus here. She was serious.

I had been Free Listening at the RNC for a few hours, and most people who spoke with me told me about their families, their jobs, and the things that brought them to Cleveland.

No one had opened up about a serious, but controversial issue.

But here she was.

It was so hot outside.

Let’s face it, it’s loud out there. It seems like everyone has something to say and somewhere to say it.

Our Facebook feeds are littered with articles, posts, and images from all types of people. For some of us, this is difficult to handle, so we edit out the ones we disagree with until our feed looks more like an echo board our of own thoughts.

If we’re not careful, we’ll treat people this way. Editing out the ones we disagree with until we’re surrounded by people who are just like us.

Then we wonder why we’re so divided.

I know what you’re thinking, though: “It’s my feed, I’ll block who I want. I shouldn’t have to be offended. I don’t have time for that. Life is too short. I only want to see what I want to see.”

If we’re not careful, we’ll treat people this way.

Then wonder why we’re so divided.

If there’s one question I get asked more than any other question, it’s this: How do I listen to someone when I disagree with them?

There are many ways to answer this. It takes a lot of forgiveness, compassion, patience, and courage to listen in the face of disagreement. I could write pages on each of these principles, but let’s start with the one thing that makes forgiveness, compassion, patience, and courage possible.

We must work to hear the person not just the opinion.

My friend, Agape, says it like this:

“Hear the Biography, not the ideology. ”

— Agape

When someone has a point of view we find difficult to understand, disagreeable, or even offensive, we must look to the set of circumstances that person has experienced that resulted in that point of view.

Get their story, their biography, and you’ll open up the real possibility of an understanding that transcends disagreement.

Like the roots of a tree, our stories, which can create our beliefs, are completely unique, and also connected. It is through story that we can find common ground enough to co-exist in the face of great, often necessary, tension.

When you find yourself in disagreement, just ask one question:

“Will you tell me your story?  I’d love to know how you came to this point of view.”

As she spoke to me about her beliefs on abortion, I wanted to stop her, and tell her my story.

I’ve sat with two loved ones as they suffered through the difficult decision and consequences of ending a pregnancy. It was a brutal human experience, and gave me an insight to something I never expected to witness.

In moments like that, “choice” doesn’t seem to be the right word.

So, when she told me they should be arrested for terminating a pregnancy, the familiar burn of disagreement started to fire in me.

There were so many things I wanted to say. I wanted to change her mind, to argue, to disagree. Its a natural response.

But, if my story brought me to my beliefs, then I needed to know how her story brought her to her beliefs.

“When you listen, you may learn something new”

— Dalai Lama

So, I asked:

“Thank you for sharing that. Tell me your story? I’d love to know how you came to this point of view.”

She seemed surprised by my interest.

“Why? It doesn’t matter. Your sign said Free Listening, so I gave you something to listen to.”

“Give me more to listen to.”

“They should be locked up! It’s wrong. It’s not right to go out and sleep with whoever, then just vacuum away the result like it never happened.”

She paused…then inhaled the entire world.

“And it’s not fair. All I’ve ever wanted to be is a mom. My whole life, I knew I was meant to have children. Then, when I was 18—18!—the doctor told me I’d never have children. My ovaries were damaged, or missing…it doesn’t matter which. I kept it a secret, and when my husband found out, he left me. I’m alone, my body doesn’t work, I’m old…who will ever love me…”

I wondered if she could hear my heart breaking.

“…so, I guess I get upset when I see people who can get pregnant, who can have kids, whose  bodies work…who can be moms…and they just choose not to…”

Sometimes, there’s nothing to “disagree” with.

I didn’t need to be right.  

I just needed to be there.

She wiped away a few tears, gave me a hug, and thanked me for listening.

She exhaled, and walked back into the RNC circus.

Maybe one day, she’ll hear my story.  But today, it was my turn to hear hers.

I hope she felt loved.

The truth is, if our love can hold space for paradox, tension, and disagreement, there’s room for all types of beliefs and opinions.

Division is a choice.

Life isn’t a Facebook feed.

Our love, our listening, must bring in, not edit out.

Dare to listen, dare to be quiet, dare to seek understanding; in the end, it’s the people we need to love, not their opinions.


Maybe, just maybe, if we can all learn how to do this, to love the person and not the opinion, maybe this year can be our last Tisha B’Av, the last year we need to mourn. And maybe next year we’ll all be celebrating instead, hands linked in unity. Amen.

Original article here: http://urbanconfessional.org/blog/howtodisagree

More on Tisha B’Av here: http://www.aish.com/h/9av/oal/48944076.html


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