Fran Peavey, in her book Heart Politics talks about an experience she had at Stanford University. She was walking on the campus one day when she came up to a group of people carrying recording equipment. They were recording a male chimp who was loose and a female chimp on a long chain. The scientists and spectators (mostly men) were trying to get them to mate. Every time the male chimpanzee approached the female chimp, she whimpered and backed away, to avoid his advances. Peavey says as she watched this scene, a wave of empathy swept through her. In the next moment, the female chimp, yanked her chain out of the male chimps grasp and walked through the crowd of people standing directly to Peavey, and took her hand. Then she proceeded to take Peavey back into the circle towards the only two other women there and joined hands with 1 of them. The 3 of them then stood together in the circle. Peavey says the chimp had formed her own support group.
This story affirms how we instinctively seek support, look for cues of safety and have the deep need to be seen, heard and recognized. Paying deep and focused attention to others allows us to be attuned to their experiences, creating space for the person to feel seen and heard. As Peavey stood there, feeling empathy for the chimpanzee, the chimpanzee sensed this support and found her safe space.
Listening deeply to others requires stepping out of our own constant inner dialogue. When we listen and attune our inner selves to the other person we also reduce the gap of separation of “us” and “them”.
“One of the deepest longings of the human soul is to be seen” ~John Donohue