Featured Documentaries & Discussion ToolsAuburn BlogRecommendationsVideosReligious LeadersConsultingDocumentary Film LibraryAuburn ResearchFor Seminary FacultyFor Religious LeadersFor Seminary Students
Listening With Our Hearts
By Audrey White
July 6, 2010
We spend our whole lives told to “sit down, shut up, and listen.” In our dialogue programming, we try to revamp the way people think about listening and turn it into a proactive and positive way to hear one another’s stories. One activity we do is called intentional listening. Two participants work with a facilitator to share and mirror one another’s stories. The sender starts with a request - “I have something to share. Are you willing to listen?” The receiver agrees - “I am ready to listen” - and they begin. The sender, the person sharing the story, offers the first few sentences. The receiver then repeats back what the sender said. They sender affirms that the receiver is correct and then continues sharing his or her story.
We did this activity in dialogue groups on Saturday, and once again its effect astounded me. The topics varied. Some participants talked about times they had faced hate and prejudice and overcome it. One talked about being afraid to express his faith in a time of war. One shared his experience with coming to understand the word death. The activity demands (and produces) careful concentration and deep empathy. At the end of each exchange, the receiver must respond by sharing how they imagine the sender felt at the time of the events in the story, and then the receiver becomes the sender and is able to share a story of his or her own.
It was interesting to be on the facilitating end of these structured conversations, since I have acted as a sender and receiver many times before. From experience, I know it’s hard to feel that much. It is hard to tell a story that strikes deep within my heart, and it’s even harder to hear another individual repeat the story back to me and mirror my emotions. As a facilitator, it was challenging for me to watch my participants, for whom I feel deeply responsible, express times of pain and try to empathize with each other’s times of personal conflict.
After five of our 11 participants shared (the rest will have a chance later in the week), they each shared the plaster masks they had made, the outside of the mask painted to represent how the world sees them, the inside to show how they see themselves. Then we took time for open conversation, and their interactions took new focus and passion because they had truly felt for one another and shown their trust. And at the end of the group, we did a one-word check-in to see how everyone was feeling. The word many of them offered was “love.”
All Things Catholic (John Allen)