Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Holding Space" is the New "Shut Up and Listen"

"Holding space" is a new-agey-type term that I started to hear floated around a lot in the past couple of years. 

Suddenly, everyone seemed to be talking about "holding space" for friends, holding space in therapy, holding space in yoga, holding space all over the place.  For all I know, "holding space" isn't really a new expression, but I'd never heard it before, so naturally I went where everyone goes when they've never heard of something: The Googles.

I found out that "holding space" basically means listening without judgment, and that it's really just a new phrase for an old concept: It's called shut the fuck up, stop being a narcissist with your own agenda, and try to see the world through someone else's eyes and from someone else's perspective. In a word, it's empathy.

I suck at SO many things: baking; sewing; driving a stick shift; sitting still. But empathic listening is not one of them. One of my biggest and only strengths is the ability to listen to other people's problems without judgment and maintain their confidences. 

This is a valuable skill and it's easy to acquire. All you have to do is take yourself out of the equation. Instead of just waiting for your turn to talk, instead of offering your own, cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all solution, instead of worrying what the outcome of a particular conversation might be for you, instead of assuming that the way you would handle something is the "right" way to do it, instead of feeling giddy over a piece of salacious gossip--instead of all of that--it is extremely helpful to just shut the fuck up and listen and consider things from someone else's point of view for five seconds.

In the modern world, people don't make the time to really listen. Everyone is always "swamped" and "crazy," running on a treadmill (literally and figuratively), staring at screens, running on a treadmill while staring at screens, and generally ignoring their fellow human beings. 

It all adds up to a lack of self-awareness, compassion, empathy, and--yes--space. On a macro-societal scale, it leads to things like "white guilt" and "white fragility" because white people don't want to just listen to black people and actually hear what they are saying about racism, because they're too busy defending themselves. On a micro-friendship scale, it leads to things like trying to manage other people's relationships and life-decisions in a way that might work just fine for the listener, but not for the person who actually has the problem.

If "holding space" means shutting the fuck up and making time for real human connection devoid of narcissistic self-investment, then I'm all for holding space.


  1. Can I repost paragraph 5 on Juneau Community Concern? Genius.

  2. Hello! I am writing a piece about the lack of critical reflection on the concept holding space. Can I reference this post? I really appreciate your thoughts!


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