Are you a good listener? Have you ever felt threatened by listening to someone’s story? I have a good friend from Siberia, Russia and she helps me to be a better listener. Here is how…

First a little side note: Have you ever been to Siberia? I have and I loved it! Some years ago together with a small group of friends I traveled to Krasnoyarsk region. Mind you it was in the winter! We took the train from Moscow to Krasnoyarsk… leaving on December 31 and arriving on January 1. One of the most memorable New Years – celebrating 6 times over 6 time zones. The whole train was one big party. Hopefully there was someone at its controls…


The famed Russian hospitality was as real as described. Especially in the small Siberian villages all doors were open to us – the strangers from Latvia. The tea was set… Also, being able to speak and read Russian opens a big world of great literature and art; rich history; beautiful country and people…

My friend and I did not meet in Siberia but in Thailand of all places. We were introduced by a mutual friend who knew that I can speak Russian. How fun! We were both excited until one simple question, „Where are you from?”

„I am from Latvia”, I answered and her face fell. I was shocked and puzzled. What did I say? What did I do? It was an awkward silence and then she explained, „Oh, I am sorry. I know that in Latvia you don’t like Russians.” My immediate thought was, „Have you ever been to Latvia?” but what I said was, „Who told you that?” The answer, „We hear it on TV in Russia.”

Most people in the world don’t even know where Latvia is. Usually I am the first Latvian they met. Better make a good first impression, right? What impression could I make on my new acquaintance? What to do about this „invisible” wall that had come up before we even knew each other?

The small but strong voice in my head said – get to know each other! Find out where these feelings and perceptions come from. Above everything – listen! Listen carefully.

I believe we became friends because we took the time to listen to each other. There were many moments in our conversations when I felt myself getting emotional and wanting to interrupt. It is much easier to listen while thinking of my reply than to listen for understanding. Also, there was a lot of shocking revelations. When I asked about the mood of people she knew, my friend said that people were expecting a war. War? With whom? She said that people were afraid of Russia being attacked by NATO. This was in 2009…

What is one of the basic first steps in overcoming our fears and perceptions? Encounter the ‘other’. Listen to the opposite narrative! Even if you strongly disagree, you have to encounter the story of your ‘enemy’. We have to learn to listen carefully and without a sense of danger and threat. Many people in a conflict situation have very little opportunity to hear the others side.

Let’s take the first step…



3 thoughts on “The threat of listening

  1. Your blog posts provoke me to think about things in a new way. This post is no different. I am challenged to open myself to listen more effectively and actively.


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