I went to a women’s leadership conference B.C. (before corona) where I participated in an active listening workshop. We were instructed to pair up and take turns talking to our partner. When it was your turn to listen, your job was to focus all of your attention on the speaker. You weren’t supposed to interrupt, even to say “YES!” or “Me too!” You were not to think about what you might say in response, even how you had the same exact thing happen to you, what are the chances!?.
When the speaker was finished you were to reflect back to them what they said. Full stop. You weren’t supposed to relate to their experiences or feelings. You weren’t supposed to ask any questions. You were to listen, acknowledge what they said, and then take your turn to speak.
I remember the way we sat right next to each other, 10 to a round table, our water glasses and coffee mugs PRACTICALLY TOUCHING, and taking each other’s business cards without Lysoling them like this was just how we lived and how we always would and NOT APPRECIATING IT AT ALL. (Same for the buffet. Will we ever have buffets again? I don’t want to imagine a world without buffets.)
I also remember the sensation of listening. I’m embarrassed to say I don’t actively listen as often as I’d like to think I do. My mind is usually going 100 mph, wondering what I can contribute to the conversation; where I read something that totally supports or might disprove what the speaker is saying.
Active listening, on the other hand, felt like a meditation. It felt good to focus on my partner completely and to forget about myself for a minute. It was freeing, even.
When I met Dan there were two things that struck me about him: he was very cute and he was a good listener. At a loud bar with sticky floors, he asked me questions, and from the way he listened to my (characteristically long-winded) answers, I could feel his genuine curiosity.
I don’t think I realized it at the time but I was drawn to him because the way he listened made me feel loved. A week later my best friend asked if I would be willing to go out with another guy. (I assure you, reader, I have not always been a middle-aged mom with graying hair and no inclination, okay, some inclination, to Botox my crow’s feet. Dating someone else was a very real possibility.) “Maybe…” I told her, “but only if he were really awesome.”
We are so lucky to live in a moment where, even if like me, you live in a city where you can count the number of Black people you know on one hand, the internet is literally in your pocket. The stories of Black people you may never have the chance to meet are all right there.
Whatever your feelings about Black Lives Matter, defunding the police, or white supremacy, I see this crisis as an invitation for white people to listen. The stories being told are not necessarily new. What is new is the moment that we find ourselves in.
Whether rioting, gathering to protest in a pandemic, and anger are justified are not the questions we need to ask. The better questions are:
Why are these things happening?
What are the feelings, the lived experiences, and the history behind them?
What can I do to create a more just society?
But first, listen.
There are so many voices we can listen to; here are a few that resonated with me:
Running While Black: A Conversation Around Race With Alison Desir-Activist, Runner and Mother from the Keeping Track Podcast hosted by Alysia Montaño, Rosin McGettigan, and Molly Huddle
Black Track Athletes Share Their Experiences With Race in America by Chris Chavez for Sports Illustrated
A Conversation on Racism in Cycling with Dr. Tim Erwin by Ben Delaney for VeloNews
Death Before Dishonor? a personal blog post by Tianna Bartoletta
Kimberly Jones “How Can We Win” (a YouTube video that’s well worth your seven minutes)
As far as my writing, I’ve been experiencing a fair amount of rejection (par for the course), a lot of silence (even worse, if you ask me, but also predictable), and that’s fine (mostly). It’s exhausting at times but it’s also why I’m really grateful to have content marketing clients. The pay is generally much better than for freelance journalism, plus you eliminate the pitching process which is time-consuming at best and makes you question your self-worth and whether you’ve ever had an original idea in your life at worst.
Speaking of the pitching process, ICYMI I wrote an e-book to help uncover the mysteries of writing a successful pitch, and according to my friend Sarah it’s really good. With her permission, I’m sharing a text she sent me:
If you want a copy or want to learn more, click here. Use the code friendsfamily50 to get half off, now through the end of June.
Here are some of my recent-ish clips:
Alysia Montaño Announces Non-Profit to Support Working Mothers (Women’s Running)
I was so grateful for the chance to write about the non-profit Alysia Montaño and her co-founder, Molly Dickens have created to support runners who are also balancing motherhood. It’s aptly named &Mother. In this case, she actually reached out to me with her press release, which was a) exciting but also b) honestly, nerve-wracking. Yes, of course, I wanted to cover this story. But what if I couldn’t sell the story to an editor!? What if I somehow blew this opportunity? Sometimes I think writing makes me crazy but the truth is I have always been one to obsess and writing is perhaps a good container for my crazy. (Dan might argue that there’s no container large enough for my crazy. He might not be wrong.)
True story: One of my best friends in grad school nicknamed me “ET Phone Home” because I had a habit of calling my answering machine from my cell phone to check my messages to see if I’d missed a call from whichever guy I was obsessing about at the moment.
Losing Your Motivation to Exercise as the Pandemic Drags On? Here’s How to Get it Back (The Washington Post)
My inspiration for this one came from… my own lack of inspiration. Without a race on the horizon and in a general state of blah, I was having a hard time finding the enthusiasm to exercise. I didn’t mind walking when I felt low-energy, I just wanted my energy back. Researching and writing this one actually put the fire back in my belly. Even though you only see a few quotes/ideas from each source, I usually spend at least 20 minutes on the phone with each one, which means there is so much under the surface that never makes it to the page. One of my favorite parts of writing is that every time I report/research a new story I feel like I’m getting paid to take a course in a topic that I’m really interested in.
How to Tell if Your Sciatica is Actually Piriformis Syndrome (Spine Universe)
This was assigned to me and even though I thought I knew about the piriformis and have long suspected mine has problems, I got to really dig in and get a better understanding. This could explain why running has been a pain in the butt for me at times. (I couldn’t resist.)
Do’s and Don’ts for a Successful Back Surgery Recovery (Spine Universe)
Again, assigned to me, and brought back lots of memories from my days as an occupational therapist.
4 thoughts on “On Listening and a Quick Update”
LOVED THIS ARTICLE!!!!!