Listening by Lashanna
I feel empowered and poised when I have face-to-face conversations with women and female identified beings and listen to their stories. And by listen, I mean really listen. As in not talk while they’re talking, not interrupting, not challenging, not thinking about what I’m going to say next, not arguing, not disputing, not one-upping, not judging, not finishing her sentence for her or any of the other inhibitive behaviors that obstruct listening or a woman’s personal self-expression. I consider listening to women’s stories one of life’s greatest gifts because I value our unique perspective and what we have to say.
Admittedly, this love of listening comes from my close relationship with my mother who, as a Gemini, was always talking, always sharing her experiences and stories with me and opening my eyes and mind to things I might otherwise have never noticed. With a 40 year age gap between us, I was astonished by the world she described when she was growing up in the 40’s and 50’s versus the world I grew up in as a young African-American girl in the 80’s and 90’s. My mother was a very private person, but she always spoke her mind. In addition, I attended an all-girls high school and, for four solid years, I was engrossed in girls’ stories for five days a week. At the time, I did not realize how much of a privilege it is to be exposed to the unfiltered and unfettered perspective of a group of diverse, educated, young women and girls. These experiences have had a huge impact on my perception of the world and the ways in which I interact with other women. They also have shaped why I feel empowered and poised listening to our stories.
Listening, I feel, is an act of giving. When women listen to one another, we give the gift of credibility. Listening is an action that says that what women have to say is important enough to stop and engage with her thoughts. As women, we have the power to affirm one another, our experiences and our truths through listening and this is an act I try to partake in as often as possible.
Whether in a group or one-on-one, there is power in the transfer of knowledge, emotion, pain and pleasure when women speak. When I really listen, I feel empowered tapping into that gift of exchange. This is why I prefer face-to-face conversations. Much like listening, it is becoming a lost art. Nowadays, I spend a lot of time on the phone, e-mail or some form of social media. However, if I run into a female friend at the gym, grocery store or my favorite coffee shop, I find myself listening and engaging for hours. For me, a good conversation is like a good meal –if you put nourishing food into your body you will walk away feeling full. Much like food, women’s stories are the sustenance of my life. Hearing and being heard builds confidence. In many respects, listening is an act of advocacy.
As I get older, I also appreciate listening to the perspectives of women with whom I may not agree with entirely. Although opposition can be hard to bear at times, I believe in balance and I like listening to different perspectives about things in life because I like learning. Learning, is another form of empowerment. It is a great way to practice empathy and participate in another woman’s emotional journey without having to take that journey myself. I think this is one of the best parts of listening; the temporary and willful suspension of your own beliefs, ideas and values so that you have the capacity to objectively participate in a world that is not your own. It’s not about arguing, reaching a goal, disputing, proving someone else wrong, or being right. It’s about knowledge and the intimacy that develops from sharing our collective and contrasting experiences.
In a world where everyone wants to talk and just a few people are given far reaching platforms for communicating, there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained from listening to women, believing women and sharing their joy, triumphs and mishaps. Currently, there is immense value in the revelation of stories of sexual harassment, assaults and rapes. These stories are busting out of the shadows and taking center stage at the forefront of the American media landscape. Hopefully they will lead us to overdue legal, social and sexual changes and force Americans and the world to be honest about abuses of power in government, media and many other industries. As women, we are complex creatures with complicated lives and many lives within. Listening to women’s stories makes me feel alive, enhances my daily life experiences and at times, has changed my world. Are you listening?