Activism through...listening

When I was 9 or 10 years old I was visiting my grandparents for Thanksgiving, and my 93 year old Great Grandpa Louie brought his girlfriend from the old age home over to introduce her to the family. It was in the midst of our conversations I  saw the serial number tattooed across her wrist. Nobody spoke about it, or asked questions. Although my dad's family left Europe shortly before the war nobody needed reminding about the atrocities that took place in the name of national pride. Even at nine years old, I knew about the holocaust, I knew about Auschwitz, but it was the first time I think that I really understood that there was a percentage of the world population that hated me, not for who I was, but because of what my family believed. 

We live in strange times right now, and while I still don't believe we will get to the point of a Facist dictator who will eradicate millions of people, I do believe we are seeing a rise in the same kind of Nationalist sentiments that helped make Hitler a reality back in 30's and it truly frightens me. These recent events have made me think a lot about what activism and progress and I thought I would take the next few posts to reflect on what I think activism towards progress really looks like. The more I think about it the more I believe that activism and advocacy require multiple strategies and successful activism needs all of the pieces of the puzzle to be there.


I'm going to tell you why I think Hillary Clinton lost the election and it's not Russia or the FBI, although I think they certainly put the final nail in the coffin. I believe she lost the electoral college because there was a huge part of America that felt she didn't hear them. They felt dismissed with speech lines like "Things aren't as good as they could be but they have gotten so much better under Barack Obama." While it is true the economy improved dramatically over the last 8 years,it didn't improve for everyone, especially those in "middle" America. Imagine if you were one of tens of thousands of people out of work for the last 8-9 years hearing everything has gotten better, and you're sitting there thinking "not for me". While the data supports an improvement in our country your personal story may not reflect that data, and if someone doesn't hear that you will feel left out. If we are going to make progress on the difficult challenges that face us we need to start in a place where we are listening to each other and not just talking at each other. So here are the things I focus on during the act of listening:

1) You're listening to people and not spreadsheets. People have personal experiences that are separate from the data that is out there. If you treat the person like an outlier and not a person you will never move forward.

2) Listening is an action but it is not two-sided. My best listening happens when I take the role of interviewer and not conversationalist. 

3) The best listening is done when you are curious. When you are truly curious about the person you are speaking with and the challenges they are facing, you will be present in that conversation and amazed at what you will discover.

4) Nobody will listen to you if you won't listen to them.

One last footnote. I totally understand that as a middle class white male, I am granted a certain amount of privilege that allows me to say "Hey people, let's start with listening". If you are a person who doesn't have that same privilege I understand being fed up with someone saying "let's just listen to what they have to say." 

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