Listen


In my work, we talk a lot about the importance of listening. I write about it in grant proposals; we talk about it in team meetings; we hold it up as a core organizational value. We know that the act of listening is essential to the processes of teaching and learning: transformative education isn't possible without it.  

As a parent, I know the importance of listening. Easily 80% of all family arguments are, at their crux, essentially about someone not listening to someone else. Mom gets mad because a kid didn't listen to her instructions and therefore didn't do a chore right for the fifth or fiftieth time in a row (hypothetically speaking); siblings fight with each other because one of them ignores the other's wishes or rights.  The wise observer can see that if these people would stop and truly listen to each other, the tension would ease, hurt feelings would heal, love and kindness would have space to grow.

Right now in our country, listening is more important than ever. Between the cacophony of the media -- social, mainstream and otherwise -- and our human tendency to shout ever louder to make our own voices heard, there isn't much true listening happening, even if we feel like all we do is take in information all day long. The world has never been louder; it's never been harder to hear each other.

I keep learning more about just how radical listening can be. It might just be the only thing that can change hearts and minds, the only thing that can move us from intractable defense to open-armed community. We may not know how to do it very well, but the good news is that we can practice that skill and make it stronger: the more we listen, the more we exercise those muscles, the better we'll get. So that's what we need: listening practice. Hours and hours of practice.

In that spirit, I offer three voices I have been profoundly moved by recently. They have things to say that are not comfortable and will not be easy for white people to hear. They also have things to say that every white person -- every human person -- can relate to, can understand on a deeply personal, visceral level.  So I ask you to listen, without first deciding how to respond: your job is not to, at first, respond. Your job is simply to hear what these three people have to say. Listen and sit with their words. Listen and invite these three people into your world. Cook them dinner, share a meal with them, stay with their voices while they speak. Let their words do what words can do: shape, build, connect and create.

Just listen:

Kimberly Jones: How Can We Win

Dave Chappelle: 8:46 



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Last night, we were talking about some of our favorite movies, and of course, Shawshank Redemption came up.  Rick used to show it to his students back in his teaching days. The line that stays with him and that students-now-adults-with-families-of-their-own still repeat when they see him is "Get busy living or get busy dying."  I went to bed with that line rattling around in my brain, the same brain that has been consumed lately with how much we need to listen to each other as a culture. I woke up with this on my mind: 

Get busy listening, or get busy denying.  

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Heather said…
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