Empathic listening on the part of political parties


Polarised forever?



Being one of the dynamics of a political system,

political parties help bring issues of citizens into political mainstream


On the eve of 70th independence anniversary, there is no doubt that Pakistan is giving a highly polarised outlook at the moment. With the former Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification in the wake of Panama leaks, the country almost seems like free-for-all in political realm. On the one hand, there is Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf brigade, stewarded by Imran Khan, that has been rejoicing the prime minister’s ouster through their relentless efforts for the last four years since 2013 and has been claiming it in people’s court a significant achievement on their part for “Naya Pakistan” in which they claim that there will be rule of law in a holistic manner.

On the other hand, there is disqualified prime ministers’ lot who, until now, was making themselves at peace with their party’s chief out of the blue disqualification, but have now started to exhibit their political prowess as their party chief has decided to portray his party’s strength through his home going rally. No doubt, the former prime minister’s home going rallies’ stunt wants to impress upon the opposition lot that his disqualification does not mean that he can be eliminated from the matrix of power politics in Pakistan. The prime minister’s supporters’ lot has been advocating in the people court that they have been short-changed and their chief’s disqualification is nothing but a plot set by other than civilian powers to derail democracy.

In the cacophony of political rivalry for power, political parties in Pakistan, at the moment, have almost lost their essence. Instead of listening to each other and accommodating each other for greater good of Pakistan at large, their power crazy approach in a narrow minded way has not only let perennial problems faced by a common citizen in this country fester, but has also not allowed to have sense of unity develop among its citizens. Each political party has, through its own rhetoric against their rivals, nurtured a split among citizens and has not let the citizens to be on the same page in the fight against growing number challenges that Pakistan has been facing with each passing year. It seems that the so-called nation weaved through a single ideology, because of not listening to each other, has undergone metamorphosis and has turned into various blocks stewarded by various political parties who talk to each other on the face value but actually they talk off each other.

True listening is an art. On the face value, it seems simple, but, in its essence, it needs a lot of attention to make it actualized. Stephen R. Covey writes in his book entitled “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” thatessence of true listening lies inEmpathic Listening which is the highest form of listening. This is the listening in which one is not blinded by one’s perspective in order to understand others’. This is the listening in which one sheds away all those barriers that might influence his/her judgment about the speaker while s/he is speaking. To put it in author’s words, “Empathic listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. You look through it; you see the world the way they see the world; you understand their paradigm; you understand how they feel.”

Normally, according to Stephen R. Covey, People vis-à-vis listening can be categorised into these four levels. Either they ignore what other is saying or they pretend to listen by saying “Yeah. Uh-huh. Right”. Or, either they go for “Selective listening”that is to listen to certain parts of the conversation or they resort to “Attentive listening” in which they are more consumed in their listening by paying attention to words being uttered. Hardly people go for Empathic listening which is the fifth level and is the highest one.

Being one of the dynamics of a political system, political parties help bring issues of citizens into political mainstream, and, through deliberation with empathic listening, advocate their vintage points with respect to those issues before their rivals if they find opposition to their stand on those issues. Lack ofEmpathic Listening on the part of political parties has cost us a lot in history by not letting democracy to flourish, and has fragmented us along various lines. Not listening to others makes one ignorant of others’ vintage point. People, when not being listened to, feel deprived; thus, they lose their cool in order to make their concerns listen to others in ways that are not win-win in nature. To impress upon the readers a more vivid picture of costs, I would like to say that not listening to each other in empathic manner has deprived us of maintaining balance in social fabric of the society, as is reflective from sectarian conflicts, minority issues and violence meted out to women.

Because of the diversity that Pakistan carries in its lap, democracy is indispensable for Pakistan. In order to actualise the true spirit of democracy and nurture political culture conducive to democracy, role of political parties equipped with empathic listening can hardly be ignored. Political parties need to buckle down to cultivate democratic norms among public through political socialisation. Their operation in the political system should not pose a threat to democracy in the country even if they have to disagree with one other. They should show political acumen to entertain each other’s differences. In chasing political pursuits, the political parties should not be dictated by their vested political interests rather, in them, there should be an inclusive approach for greater good.

At present, though on the face value though everything seems normal yet there is a storm brewing which one can sense from the over-reactive approach from some media channels along prime minister’s party to prime minister’s disqualification. Let us hope on this independence anniversary that political parties will get over this polarisation that Pakistan has been facing and will let democracy to thrive.


Inamullah Marwat is an MPhil scholar studying International Relations at Department of Political Science in University of the Punjab, Lahore. He can be reached at[email protected]