Listen Up!

Listen up!
Huffington Post
Oct. 17, 2016
By Rose Hamid
October 21st is World Day of Listening. The Wold Day of Listening website states: “We are Listeners from around the world, representing many traditions, professions, and walks of life – working together to offer peaceful, non-confrontational listening, free of charge and without advice, judgement, argument or interpretation. We are non-partisan and non-promotional.”

Listening is the key to helping our community and our world overcome the many hurdles we are facing.

I put the listening concept to the test last month when my hometown of Charlotte, NC erupted after Keith Lamont Scott (an African American man waiting to pick up his son from school) was shot by police under questionable circumstances. I felt a need to be on the streets with the people of my city. I wanted to stand with folks who were in pain and were desperate to have their voices heard. Although there were some who turned violent, the majority of the people on the street were peaceful; angry, but non-violent. I also wanted to stand with those who have sworn to protect and serve our communities; although sometimes they fall short, the majority of police are risking their lives for our protection, and I did not want to dishonor their profession.

I decided the best course of action was to attend a rally, using a tactic from a group called Urban Confessional, who’ve developed the Free Listening project. I simply stood to the side holding a sign which read “Free Listening”, and allowed people to approach and share what was on their minds and hearts. People appreciated the ‘holding of space’ for listening. It was an intense experience.
Available for free listening at rally in Marshal Park, Charlotte NC  Sept. 24, 2016
Available for Free Listening at a rally in Marshal Park, Charlotte NC Sept 24, 2016

It takes some doing to truly listen to someone, and I was grateful for the guidelines put out by the Urban Confessional group. They believe “people need to be heard. There is value in simply listening to someone.”
Some of the advice in the guidelines (available in a 4 page pdf) include:
• Have imbalanced conversations: 80% listening, 20% redirected responses.
• Make eye contact. We listen with our eyes and our hearts
• Never assume anything about anyone. Always let them volunteer information
• We are here for them. That’s all. No agenda, no strings attached

The act of listening is a powerful thing. So many times, instead of truly listening we are just waiting to interrupt with our own thoughts and ideas, which can then turn into a heated argument. The Quran instructs “And be moderate (or show no insolence) in your walking, and lower your voice. Verily, the harshest of all voices is the voice (braying) of the ass.” 31:19

All too often we allow the “braying” of a small group of people to drown out the voices of those who have deeply rooted, legitimate concerns.

Pastor Erika Funk from First Presbyterian Church joined me is offering Free Listening
Pastor Erika Funk from first Presbyterian Church joined Rose Hamid in offering Free Listening

For decades I’ve been involved with local organizations who work at building bridges across differences and creating an inclusive, equitable community. Groundwork has been laid by these organizations and it’s been evident in the responses during the protests and now. Because of that groundwork people were able to quickly come together to lend a calming influence during the week of protests which followed the shooting. And there are multitudes of initiatives and opportunities to engage and seek out solutions to the needs of all of our community members.

But before any plan can be enacted we must begin by listening to folks who have opposing viewpoints. We don’t have to wait until Oct. 21st and we don’t have to hold a sign, we can listen wherever we find the opportunity. Approach someone wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt and ask them what that means to them. Ask the person at the grocery store with the “Make America Great Again” hat what their concerns are. There are so many lines which can divide us, but by truly listening we can discover that we have much more in common with each other.

I ran into Dina Badaway as I was leaving and handed off the sign so she could continue listening.

Click here to view original in Huffington Post