Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher

Seek first to understand


Breathe. Seek first to understand not to judge.

The words kept flowing through my mind. I held myself in their presence and let the conversation flow around me until I felt the truth of what my heart was telling me come alive in my thinking.

I was sitting around a boardroom table with members of a group of concerned people. They had invited a co-worker and me to come and present on a new development the Foundation I work for was proposing in their community.

Twenty-five – thirty units of affordable housing in an assisted living appartment building for formerly homeless Calgarians.

“You have to admit this is a special situation,” someone commented. “This isn’t like all your other buildings. None of them are so close to the homeless hilton.”

I do not like that term. The shelter the individual was referring to is not ‘the homeless hilton’. It is an emergency shelter. A place where people seek refuge, day and night, to find some warmth, comfort, safety from the harsh, cold winds of homelessness.

As I ruminated on the term, I could feel myself getting all steamy inside. The pesky critter wanted to leap into the fray. He wanted to give them a piece of my mind. It is not the homeless hilton. It is a homeless shelter that provides care and support for human beings who do not have a home….

Seek first to understand not to judge, my heart whispered. Share your heart. Not your judgements, it added for good measure. Sometimes, I can be hard of hearing where my heart is concerned.

I breathed. And opened my mind to what my heart knows best.

I cannot change someone else’s position. They have the same right to their position as I have to mine. What I do have is the power to make space for common ground to arise from our sharing of our points of view.

I listened to my heart. I sought to understand. To gain a view into their perceptions before I sought to be understood.

I asked for clarification. I asked to hear their concerns, their fears, their worries.

They shared. I listened and then I shared what I had heard about their concerns, their fears, their worries and what I knew to be true in this situation.

Heads around the table nodded as I spoke about the success of a similar project in an area equally as close to the shelter. About how moving people with lived experience of homelessness out of shelter into housing creates a sense of greater safety and well-being in their lives and our communities.

Lives change when we change how we see what is happening in the moment of discord, disagreement, unease arising.

Lives also change when we seek less to judge and search instead for understanding. Not just in the lives we judge to be less than, other than the way we think they should be, but also in the lives of those who hold a different position than ours.

When we do not understand how another thinks, to find common ground we must first change our viewpoint from a place of condemnation and move to a place of compassion. In that space, we have a greater chance to see eachother as human beings holding different points of view, where one is not wrong the other right. They are simply different. In that place of understanding, we have a greater opportunity to create bridges of understanding, not of separation.

I had a moment last night when I didn’t want to step back from the precipice of my condemnation. I had a moment when I wanted to leap into discord just because… I thought I knew best. I thought I had all the answers. I thought the other person was wrong.

I breathed and let my heart call me back from the edge. I breathed and let my heart guide me. In its loving care, I let go of my judgements and stopped dancing in the field of condemnation.

When someone sees a shelter, or the housing we are looking to build, as something we do not see it to be, it is not that they are wrong, it is that they can only see it from where they stand, from their experience.

When we speak in pejorative terms, it is not our hearts talking. It is our minds expressing what we fear. Our minds know fear well. To not let fear have control, our minds hold tightly to the reins of power, because who knows what hell will break loose if we let go of holding onto what we believe to be true?

I struggled to let go of my judgements last night. I struggled to let go of listening to my mind’s rant and let my heart speak first.

And then I surrendered and allowed myself to fall into Love. I surrendered and fell into that place where I saw each of us in this thing call our shared human condition. It is a place of compassion, understanding, Love.

It was a powerful lesson in humility.

It doesn’t change the fact that I do not like that term, the homeless hilton. I have heard it many times, and still find it pejorative. A homeless shelter is not a spa. It is not a holiday resort.

It is a refuge. Just like my heart. Your heart. Our hearts.

And in the refuge of my heart, I find the space to make room for all points of view so that together, we can find common ground where all of us hears our hearts calling us to turn up and care for one another through the grace of our human condition shining.

Author: Louise Gallagher

I believe in wonder. I believe we are all magnificent beings of divine beauty. I believe we can make a difference in this world, through every act, word, thought. I believe we create ripples with everything we do and say and want to inspire everyone to use their ripple to create a better world for everyone. I'm grateful you're here.

15 thoughts on “Seek first to understand

  1. We seem to be on the same page today Louise! I hope, as the heads were nodding around the table, you came to a place of understanding and common purpose. ❤ I love your heart. ❤
    Diana xo


  2. You are such an inspiration to me!! I understand the “reaction” you had and I am so proud that you took a breath and listened to your heart. You give me the strength to live in that grace today! Such a gift! Blessitude


  3. I so admire you. Firstly for being able to breathe and therefore take a measured appraisal of the situation.
    Secondly, for standing up for fairness and delivering the truth of the situation.


    • Ah Elizabeth — I have learned in community engagement work that breathing is essential to bringing my best to any conversation — somedays, I have to breathe deeper than others. 🙂 And thank you!!!! I love that story you shared in your next comment — how amazing and powerful. I am going to share it with others. thank you!!!


  4. There is a wonderful story about this in the civil rights movement and how a Klu Klux Klan leader and black woman found common ground in fighting for the poor of both their peoples.


  5. Are you and Diana sharing dreams again … 😉
    I love how you describe common ground and how you take yourself to a place where you can facilitate it. Common ground is our common humanity. … and where we connect with our heart space.
    This is good world Louise!
    Val x


  6. Thank you for sharing this touching tale.


  7. I know a little about what you say: seek first to understand not to judge.
    It’s one of my life’s aspiration and probably the hardest to remain faithful to.
    When someone says something that rubs you the wrong way, lashing out (the spoken form of judgement) is the first ting you want to do.
    But when you choose to understand first, you give yourself a chance to discover that people don’t do (or say) what they do because they are bad people, it’s usually because of ignorance or they are overwhelmed by circumstances.
    I try to come from understand in every situation and when I fail today, I try again tomorrow.

    This was a really insightful story. Thank you sharing this experience, Louise.


    • thank you! I love your name — Lyrical Treasure — I shall come and check out your blog — i so appreciate your comments — and so true — it is because of ignorance, not that they are ignorant. Thanks again. Lovely to meet you!


This conversation needs your brilliance to shine. Please share your thoughts.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s