24 November 2016

The Art of Listening

“Asking questions and listening intently to the stories that emerge is one of the most powerful forces in the world. If we all take one hour this year to do it, we’ll strengthen our national fabric at a time when it desperately needs it.” Dave Isay, StoryCorps founder and president 
A whole lot of listening goes on around here. We listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and music is often streaming from speakers or earbuds somewhere in the house. Most of all though, we listen to each other. Like most things in life listening takes work and there is always, always, more to learn. In the past several years we’ve been researching, studying new techniques, and we have begun to really honor the art of listening.

An important part of the art is one that seemed surprising: Quiet. “We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally.” Such a simple idea, but one that holds so much wisdom, as Susan Cain explains in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. Quiet was recommended by a dear friend, singer-songwriter May Erlewine. In person May seems to be well, quiet, but when she steps on stage her artful, engaging, energy effects everyone with the depth of her voice and poetry of her craft. May suggested the book because The Big Sister wondered how to be quiet and still be part of conversation. In a world that felt like we have to be loud to be heard, can we really be still and listen? We’re discovering that the answer is resoundingly, yes.

Why are we thinking about Listening?

In the United States on the fourth Thursday in November people gather: some to celebrate Thanksgiving, some to mourn*, and many struggle to communicate with those they love deeply but wonder: how did we get here, how can I get to know each other better, where do we begin? We’re guessing that people in each category might find some inspiration and hope in two tools that both focus on listening:

The Books for Walls Project first became involved with the StoryCorp National Day of Listening oral history project in 2011 with the Listening Challenge, we were even official state partners of the project. Our interview plans were thwarted by lack of proper recording equipment that is no longer a problem for anyone with a smart phone thanks to the StoryCorps app. Now anyone, anytime, anywhere can participate and become part of this incredible compendium of relationship oral history. Start now, click here: https://storycorps.me

Lets Talk, an interactive to bridge the gap
In 2016 the U.S. experienced a divisive, ugly, and unsettling election. The process of understanding, grieving, working to fix, and healing the division is just beginning. Thankfully, The New York Times created a resource to help heal the wounds and wouldn’t you know, it’s all about listening. With 19 interview questions, a few ground rules, just about anyone can be on the road to reconciliation. Click to learn more and even listen to a couple of the interviews: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/18/podcasts/how-could-you-19-questions-to-ask-loved-ones-who-voted-the-other-way.html?_r=0

Now get out there and listen.

Listening Tools, Resources, References, Information, and Insights:
Another part of listening is empathy. Learn more with Brene Brown’s Empathy Primer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw
Are you an Educator? Bring the Great Listen to your students, get the toolkit: https://storycorps.me/about/the-great-thanksgiving-listen/
The Dad found a resource to help us understand the difference between judgement and being judgmental, definitely a doorway to better listening: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/theory-knowledge/201305/making-judgments-and-being-judgmental
More about May Erlewine: http://mayerlewine.com
How to Be a Better Listener, Scientific American https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-be-a-better-listener/
Thanksgiving and the Myth of Native American “Savages”, from Scientific American https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/thanksgiving-and-the-myth-of-native-american-savages/
*Why Thanksgiving Is A ‘National Day Of Mourning’ For Some Americans, Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/native-americans-national-day-of-mourning_us_5650c46ee4b0258edb31c3ca
Learn about the American Thanksgiving from “why turkey?” to “why Thursday”: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/thanksgiving-day-whats-the-history-of-the-holiday-and-why-does-the-us-celebrate-pilgrim-fathers/