From a young age, I’ve always been insatiably curious about the world around me. It’s a running joke within my family that I can’t stop asking questions. At the dinner table, when my mom, dad, or brothers shared stories from work or school, I wanted to know all the details.
Wait, who’s that?
When did it happen?
Where were you?
Why’d you do that?
Who, What, Where, When Why.
Since I’ve been able to form a sentence, listening has been a natural instinct for me. Throughout my life, I’ve always wanted to understand complete narratives. As a journalist, active and open listening is central to my work.
In my classes throughout college, I’ve been consistently taught the only way to tell a full, complete, authentic story is by listening intently and purposefully.
A primary means of learning and expanding one’s worldview is accomplished through listening.
Our society and culture, however, do not typically value listening over talking. We reward speaking over others instead of hearing what they have to say. The 2016 election, for example, made this reality crystal clear.
During the first presidential debate, Trump interrupted Clinton and Lester Holt, the moderator, a total of 55 times in comparison to Clinton’s 11. Clearly, Trump’s behavior was affirmed and rewarded when he claimed victory on November 8, 2016 – a day many of us wish not to relive.
On the other hand, pundits, colleagues, and staff agree that Clinton’s greatest strength is her ability to listen and learn. She is known among politicians and policy makers for her ability to listen, learn, and find common ground in order to make change.
So, why isn’t listening revered? Why does an effective, active listener like Hillary Clinton lose an election? Why are quiet students in class deemed too shy instead of viewed as active listeners? Throughout school, I rarely spoke during class because I was focused on listening and understanding lessons. Many of my teachers labeled this behavior/pattern inadequate, resulting in lower participation grades than those my chattier peers earned. Quietness does not equate to passivity, though.
Of course speaking up is important and folks should feel confident using their voice as a force for good, but there’s a distinct difference between speaking to communicate important points and talking over someone else.
Listening is the most effective means to impact change. As I’ve begun to learn more about allyship, I’ve come to understand that open listening is vital to supporting marginalized communities without taking up their space. Because we’ve all been socialized in a society that perpetuates systems of oppression, communities of privilege simply cannot relate to oppressed populations on a direct, personal level. Actively listening to marginalized experiences can help bridge this disconnect and expand our worldviews.
Advancing equity and justice requires significant unlearning and listening to lived experiences of oppression. I listen to my friends and peers, research intersectional issues, consume media that represent experiences I can’t relate to due to my privileged identities and learn how I, as a cis white woman, can best serve as an ally to oppressed groups.
As the Trump administration –– and our society at large –– continues to attack people of color, trans, Muslim and undocumented folks, privileged individuals have an undeniable responsibility to listen. Listen, learn, advocate, and support. Since Trump won, I’ve become even more committed to effective allyship. As a person with several privileged identities, I have an obligation to help make change during an increasingly extreme, right-wing administration intent on dismantling civil rights.
As the saying goes, “ We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”