Sunday, October 6, 2013

What does it mean to be a good listener

On a beautiful day in May, the Listening Project was invited to conduct a facilitated group listening project at the public high school in Burnsville, NC, making it the first time that RSVP had been involved at Mountain Heritage High School. What made this event special is that it focused on an issue that is affecting everyone, everywhere: Climate change.

How do I approach the role of listening in my daily life?

The students, about fifty in all, split up into several small groups in which each student was invited to respond to specific questions pertaining to climate change, such as, "What, if anything, makes this an important enough issue to discuss with others?" RSVP did not lecture at the students about climate change, nor did they implore them with a series of shoulds. RSVP simply listened. Not a lot happened for the first half, but a feeling of trust set in during the second half and it was amazing what came out.

In what ways might my own motives or biases be making it difficult for me to listen?

Every student had an opinion, and every opinion had its rich history of experience to support it. And that rich history, when expressed, revealed the cultural minefields, local prejudices, and political baggage that complicates these students' lives. Some said that they might be able to act with more care for the environment if it were not entangled with the stereotypes of being a liberal or a hippie. One student said that his daddy is a logger and that his daddy's daddy was a logger and that he too will go on to be a logger, and that there's no room in his life for him to choose to be an environmentalist lest he be ostracized. Some said it's impossible to care about the environment without being considered an environmentalist.

How might listening improve my relations with members of my community?

This event was hopefully, truly, for the students. RSVP hopefully pulled out that which is true from inside each student. It was a small step, but on the right path. We left feeling inspired and full from the wisdom the students had to offer about the issue of climate change in the Burnsville community.