I saw a post (on the Tara Centre site run by my dear friend Elham) a few weeks back mentioning plans for a world day of listening. In just a few words I got really excited. Here was someone talking about the very thing we have been paying attention to at Bromford in recent months….listening. I got in touch with Greg Madison who wrote the piece and he kindly agreed to write this guest blog explaining what the day is all about.
A World Day of Listening.
Friday 21st October 2016.
I was stunned by the news that the UK population had voted to leave the EU. The morning after the referendum I sat with friends in despair. We were literally unable to comprehend the unexpected outcome. Over the following days I watched myself jump between the various ‘stages of grief’: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, weeks later, some degree of acceptance.
It was not a smooth progression through these different reactions, but I did shift from feeling to feeling. Each shift was facilitated by talking and listening. Listening to myself, listening to others, and being listened-to.
When I saw a petition for a second referendum, I began to get curious about the people who had voted ‘out’. I wondered if this move to rerun the referendum left them feeling that their votes were being disrespected, disregarded, and their opinions ignored? I began to want to know more about how they felt and what motivated them. How long had the out-voters felt not-listened-to?
It is tempting to dismiss people who we profoundly disagree with; in anger we call them “idiots”. But what if no one is an idiot? Can we take people seriously enough to at least be curious about what motivates them, the feelings and needs that generate their thoughts and behaviour? Listening closely to a person has the potential to deepen their understanding of themselves and our understanding of them. It deconstructs ‘us’ and ‘them’ to a new sense of ‘we’.
How can ordinary people feel that they have any impact in a world that seems to notice only seismic political shifts and media-spun prejudices that polarise public opinions? Who listens to the voice of the lone person? We can go days, weeks, years, maybe even a lifetime without ever really being listened to. Then when we experience the connection of listening and being listened to, it feels like a basic human right.
the world would be a better place if listening was more highly valued
We believe the world would be a better place if listening was more highly valued and widely practiced. Listening is about receiving how another person is struggling, without editing it or spinning it, trying to fix it, or arguing and mixing in other views. Really listening to someone allows them to understand themselves more deeply and often when something in the person has been deeply heard, they can then open up to new possibilities.
A World Day of Listening is the result of many Listeners from around the world, representing many traditions and approaches or none, working together. We do not promote any doctrine, political or religious view, we are not pushing for any outcome, and we are not marketing any product. We just want to hear the voices out there, to connect to each other again without anything in-between, human-to-human. Who are we?
Listening, not voting, is the fundamental act of democracy.
HOW WE LISTEN
Listening openly is not the same as agreeing with someone. We don’t lose our own perspective in the process. We temporarily set it aside so it’s not an obstacle. We dwell in a feeling of not-knowing this other person so that they have space to come to know themselves and what they feel.
If someone is saying something you disagree with, try to honestly just Listen, hear how it is for that person, how their perspective makes sense to them. It is not your job to change minds. Acknowledge the feeling of their conviction. Afterwards you can also get a chance to be Listened to by someone in your group.
What we don’t do – we do not offer advice, take sides, or argue, judge or interpret. Listening is an active process where we:
- Try to remain open-hearted. Keep our full attention on the speaker. The most basic requirement in Listening is to be present, giving your attention to this other person.
- The second basic requirement is to give space for the speaker to tell their story however they wish – this means to be quiet and not to interrupt except for clarification or to make sure you are following them.
- Thirdly, saying back the main points of the story can help the person remain in touch with their deeper point while not adding in any distortion of your own.
HOW WE CONDUCT OURSELVES
Allow people to approach you and your group. Smile and be open and approachable but you don’t need to solicit people to participate. You can sit with an empty chair across from you.
Have a simple sign that announces ‘Free Listening’ or ‘World Day of Listening’. Have a few leaflets that explain the event (our template on the Facebook group is an example).
The event is promoting an atmosphere of gentle invitation.
We think listening is a forgotten ‘art’ and we want people to experience it again. We believe people often feel better once they have been understood and have understood themselves more through listening”.
After the event it is good to have a group debrief – a chance to listen to each other. If there is someone who would like to take part as a listener but feels shy about listening to the public, this person could be a support during the day to listen to the Listeners. Personal stories can evoke a lot in each of us and we also need to be listened to…
We are open to welcoming any individuals and groups who would like to join an event whose sole aim is to listen to people about their experience of the current world situation and of themselves living in this world. We are non-partisan and non-promotional. Our only aim is to provide the healing and forward-moving experience that happens when one person listens openly, without agenda, to another, allowing social change to move through each person. This is a gentle model of social subversion and activism.
Though many of those involved are therapists and facilitators, it is not primarily a mental health or therapy event. Anyone with listening skills (trainings can be offered in many locations) can participate, activists, counsellors, academics, facilitators, pastoral workers, group workers, youth workers, active listeners, NVC people, mindfulness practitioners, Focusing people, coaches, social change persons…. Guidelines (English, Portuguese, German, Mexican and Spanish so far) are uploaded into ‘Files’ just under the group photo… Please feel free to join us from anywhere around the world …
You can get involved by organising a local event on the Day – a few hours of ‘free listening’ on the street, a few chairs in a local library or school where anyone could sit down to be listened to, a few minutes over breakfast with your partner or family where each person gets five minutes to say how they feel before each runs off in their own direction…. feel free to be creative.
There is no one right way to Listen or to hold a Listening event.
Join us on October 21st, 2016 for the first ever World Day of Listening.
Thank you Greg. If you’d like to find out more about World Day of Listening join the Facebook Group here. I’m hoping we’ll be organising some events at Bromford too.