Learning to listen, with a focus on the Holy Land

Shareda Hosein had an “amazing experience” with learning to listen early in her career. The retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves was working towards being credentialed as a chaplain, fulfilling a requirement in a hospital.

“I was on call and so scared that someone would call me,” said Hosein. And someone did. A Jewish woman in her last days of life wanted a chaplain. She wanted to talk about her funeral.

Hosein, a Muslim, said, “I didn’t have a clue about Jewish traditions. I just listened.”

And that, it turned out, was exactly what the woman needed — and what Hosein needed, too. She learned to be present, to open her heart, to reflect back on the woman’s joys.

Hosein, who now serves as a community chaplain and volunteer spiritual counselor at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, is one of three interfaith leaders who will share their experiences, their skills and their tips at “Can We Talk? An Invitation to Dialogue about Conflict in the Holy Land.”

The May 3 event will help with listening — and talking — skills about a subject riddled with contention. After a short tutorial by facilitators, attendees will go into small-group conversations to learn and practice talking and listening skills. Registration is now open for the event, scheduled for 2-5 p.m. Sunday, May 3, at Open Spirit in Framingham. Space is limited; cost is $25.

Yehezkel Landau, an associate professor of Interfaith Relations at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, hopes people will learn how to have a “sincere, honest and respectful exchange.”

He says he wants people to understand the perspectives of other cultures, traditions and faiths — even if they don’t agree with each other. It’s that understanding — which comes from listening and learning — that will lead to the ability to live peacefully together, he says.

“One human life is more precious than any territory,” he said. There are many ways to build bridges toward peace, and seeing people as human beings instead of stereotypes is a major step. And listening, open-hearted listening, is a step toward that.

It can be a difficult skill to master, said Karen Nell Smith, program director of Interfaith Engagement at the Brookfield Institute, organizers of the May 3 event. Even knowing how to start the conversation can be overwhelming, which is why the three facilitators — who have all taught these skills before — will explain some of the ground rules.

“It’s all about your intent,” Smith said. “If you’re there to defend and persuade, you’re not going to have a dialogue.”

Often while listening, a “trigger” can make someone rise up or become angry, Smith said. But if you can stay open, you’ll learn. Allowing someone to tell their story and acknowledging that story is key, she said. “Don’t discount it or counter it with your own story. Empathize, find compassion, find commonality.”

Smith and Landau have co-authored guidelines about interfaith engagement.

“The hope is that people will experience something they haven’t experienced before,” Smith said.