It has come up before, many times during our decade plus of service as volunteer listeners, that the Listening Post is countercultural. The term counterculture implies not just a way of being that is different from the main stream culture, but a way that is resistant to or even opposed to the main stream.
Recently I have found myself in a few settings where I shared with others my passion for listening. And, more than once, as I shared about the LP, our heartful and grounded volunteers, the need for listening, the satisfaction and even healing impact of being heard, I noticed people – hmmm, how can I say this? – I noticed people were not listening.
It interests me that initially people agree that listening is valuable and yet if I desired to speak about it much longer than making a passing comment like ‘listening matters,’ I lost them. Each time, as the other drifted away, I simply stopped sharing. No one asked me to continue, the topic changed or the person actually walked away. This happened more than once. While there could be any number of reasons why folks in these various settings could not take a moment to join me in a conversation about the value of listening, it was a pattern that got my attention.
In an early version of our volunteer listener training manual there was a story about two people sitting together talking. One suddenly stops mid-sentence and when they resumed talking they said, “Sorry, I seem to have lost my train of thought.” The other responded, “No, sorry, that was me. I stopped listening.”
There is such turmoil in the world today. One of the most painful concerns is racism. Out of the many responses to the Black Lives Matter movement one is a quick retort, all lives matter. When this comment comes so quickly, when it is said as if it closes the matter, when it comes authoritatively, it has the opposite effect. While it is hard to argue with the sense that all lives matter, using this line to stop another person from sharing their experience or frustration or pain and suffering, to come back with a charged comment that all lives matter – the charge says: shut up, I’m not listening.
If a counterculture is resistant or in opposition, then what is the Listening Post? Can listening oppose or resist a culture that devalues listening? Fighting fire with fire? That just doesn’t click for me. To refer to the just act of listening as countercultural no longer feels appropriate. In this moment it strikes me that to love, respect, and value listening and to actively practice it, makes us ambassadors. Quiet ambassadors, but ambassadors nonetheless.
Others may or may not recognize the role and that’s okay. With the individuals I mentioned who seemed disinterested in hearing about the LP, I have been their listener many times. I don’t think it registers as such, but it is true. I’ve heard them out, and continue to hear them out, ongoingly.
We are the Quiet Ambassadors, welcoming people as they are. What else is there to do? There is enough resistance in the world. Maybe listening isn’t exactly countercultural because it doesn’t have anything to do with culture. Listening is human. Listening, one human being to another human being, is a form of deep welcoming. And who doesn’t need that?
I know you do not question my outpouring of gratitude,
all my thanks,