Sunday, April 24, 2011

Knowing when to listen

Anyone who have meet me can tell you that I'm not a quite person. I talk a lot, am opinionated, love to debate, and am probably slightly obnoxious in some peoples' opinion. People who know me better, can also tell you that I am generally a good conversationist, which is not the same.

Conversations are different from someone talking or from people debating. If someone just talks, the listeners are passive recipients. Debates on the other hand, are about convincing the other people involved about a given point. Conversations require something else - they require listening and thinking about what is being said, before responding. The listening and thinking part seems to be the hard part. Responding comes naturally.

So, what is the point of this post?

Well, the point is simply to point out that people in a position of privilege (e.g. me - a white, heterosexual man) need to learn to hold a conversation if they want to understand the challenges facing non-privileged people and/or to face their own privileges and the advantages they give.

When an organization, a group, or a conference wants to understand why there are so few participants from a given non-privileged group (women, ethnic minorities, LGBT people, physically challenged etc.), then they shouldn't have a debate within their own group, but instead try to seek out a conversation with people from said non-privileged group. During that conversation they should listen, and think, and ask for clarifications, and think some more. And then they should respond. Respond in a way that doesn't stop the conversation. Respond in a way that doesn't dismiss or diminish the challenges people from the non-privileged group face. Respond in a way which doesn't move the focus away from the subject. Respond in a way that demonstrates a genuine interest in understand, and in having a conversation.

If this is done, there can be a conversation. A conversation which will benefit all participants. A conversation which might lead to changes. A conversation which matters.

If you┬┤re not interested in investing that effort into the conversation, then don't bother. Non-privileged people don't need to be told, again, by a privileged person that they are imagining things, too sensitive, or that they don't really have it as hard as the privileged person.



Blogger Adriana said...

Great post! You said it very loud and clear. This should be mandatory reading in all high schools.

April 24, 2011 6:09 PM  
Anonymous Big Fan now said...

well said, and thank you for saying it! I wish there were more people of YOUR mindset in the world.
PLEASE keep on talking, friend. this is just the kind of idea more ppl need to consider.

April 24, 2011 10:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AWESOME post! Dealing with one's own privilege is always such a sore point for people- things like this need to be said, and said again, and then said some more. Thanks for posting it :)

April 25, 2011 2:04 AM  

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