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Kellyanne meet Yitro

The art of listening can make all the difference, whether you're a presidential advisor or simply miss your mother

Kellyanne Conway is not a great listener.  She hears one term in a question and responds to that. She’s sharp but she doesn’t hear the intention of a question. She fails to demonstrate deep listening.

Mahmoud Abbas’ doctoral dissertation from the Moscow Oriental College is called “The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism”. Along with a range of alternative facts, it also suggests only 1 million Jews were murdered. Yep. Why? What would be so scary about hearing our story?

And Netanyahu? What would he lose by honoring the Palestinian narrative? It doesn’t make ours any less true. It wouldn’t mean he has to convert.

Listening is where this week’s parsha begins: Yitro (Jethro, Moses’ pa-in-law) listens to Moses speak about the exodus and responds with, “Wow. That is a really moving thing you shared, man. Mega-cool.” (That is not an actual Torah quote.) Yitro listens – actually, he does really deep, non-defensive listening and gives us the first example of inter-religious dialogue. In fact, what he does is even better – so moved is he by what Moshe shares about our story that Jethro makes a sacrifice to our God. And then he stays a Midianite priest and goes on his way. Hearing someone else doesn’t have to be threatening. It can move you to honor them. It doesn’t mean you have to convert.

My book group just read Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It’s a tough read. As a privileged white, I found myself bouncing back and forth between being able to hear him speak about the dangers of living in a black skin in America and not being able to hear him. I tried. It was painful. It was worthwhile. It changed me a little.

I taught at a networking session this week. In a quiet moment afterwards, I mentioned to someone that it was my lovely, argumentative, hot-tempered and passionate-about-values mum’s birthday and that I missed her (z”l). Without missing a beat, she pulled a perpetual calendar from her bag to sell to me. I felt not heard in a deep way. She heard key terms and responded to them as a marketing opportunity. Suffice it to say, she failed to make the sale.

Before he leaves, Yitro sees Moshe at work judging the people. Straight away he says, “What are you doing to the people? And to yourself? Delegate!!” Now that’s true Israeli style. Form an instant impression and give advice.

And Jethro was right. His advice helped. And Moshe listened. Perhaps because he already felt heard. Jethro the listener’s last words to us are, “If you do this, you will be able to stand your burden and the people will go in peace.”

I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

About the Author
Helen Gottstein is a presentation training specialist and an actress. Presentation training and performances available for bookings in Hebrew and English. helengot@gmail.com