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  • Writer's pictureSue Schleifer

Seen and Respected

I often experience what David Brooks wrote about in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times. I go to an event with other people and do a lot of listening. On the drive home I realize that no one asked me any questions. This doesn’t happen with everyone with whom I interact, but enough times to take notice.

Brooks estimates that about 30% of people in the world are good question askers. They ask questions that open up a conversation and make others feel heard and respected. We all know what it feels like to be with someone who is totally present with us. Brooks calls this person an illuminator. They are curious about others and ask the right questions at the right time. They exhibit their care and concern and others feel great to be around them.

This is in contrast to diminishers, people who take up a lot of space in a conversation and make others feel small or unseen. They might stereotype or make assumptions about you based on little information.

These ideas are included in Brooks’ new book, How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen. He outlines suggestions for how to be more like an illuminator. A few of the suggestions include giving one’s full attention to the other person and something he calls “accompaniment:” taking the time to “delight” in another human being, “to be lingerable.” This is something I want to practice. I realize that more and more, in social situations, I get impatient and don’t allow myself to fully appreciate a moment, whether that be with a person or an experience.

And he writes: “If … I show persistent curiosity about your viewpoint, I show respect.” … “the wise person’s essential gift is tender receptivity.” Can you imagine what our world would be like if we each showed persistent curiosity of other’s viewpoints? And if we practiced tender receptivity? I’m going to focus on these practices. Will you join me? Together, we can create a kinder, more peaceful world.


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