Thursday, December 8, 2011

On the Art of Listening, Part One

I attended the Edcamp Fraser Valley (Un)conference over this past weekend.  It was an interesting affair.  It used the concept of open space technology to organize the various workshops and presentations available.  Basically, you could put a topic or idea on a board and the attendees could choose to go to it or not.  Or they could do a facilitation of their own if they chose.  I sort of wandered from workshop to workshop, as my curiosity guided me.

I dropped in on one discussing the school as  a village (I think), and ended up sitting down with one of the two breakout groups as they discussed how a village communicates within and how one is able to listen to learn and share effectively.  I was quiet during this time, except for the odd murmer to Chris Wejr (@Mrwejr on Twitter), as I was trying to digest the rapid-fire exchange of ideas.  Two things occurred to me that I didn’t share there but thought I’d share here.

We need to strive to truly listen, this much was said at the workshop, but no one mentioned to what we should be listening to.  Are we listening to the right things?  Or are we dismissing it because we do not necessarily make the connections right away?

In attending three separate meetings in the last couple of years, attended by a mix of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, I was struck by what, in each case, a single speaker was saying and how it was being heard by those around him or her.  In the first, the speaker delivered a speech that was talking, at length, about the traditional territories and the worldviews of First Nations, which, on the surface was fairly benign and positive.  It was taken as such by the non-Aboriginal attendees (at least judging by the responses it invoked), but a non-scientific survey of the Aboriginal attendees received a very different reaction.  They, and I, felt that this was an attack on the other First Nations attendees and their affiliated Bands.  I won’t go into details, as they aren’t important and are long-ago resolved.  What is said and what you hear, though, are two very different things.

In the second, and I spoke about this in my post The Mythological Indian, a young man stood up and spoke about his challenges and successes in the realm of education.  Again, what he said and what was heard were two separate things.  His is a success story, despite his challenges in the education system because he learned from his failures and his successes and his own desire to learn and grow was borne out of that experience.  He learned in an Indigenous fashion and found himself where he needed to be.  What was heard was entirely different, judging by the responses he received and we both wondered if the audience had heard him say that the relationship was more important than the provincial exam.

In the third instance, a Grandmother who had struggled all her life, and, in the meeting appeared to be rambling and all over the place and frequently lost in thought, made her case for the importance of education.  In this case, I believe all the attendees in my little break-out group understood the message she was delivering, although I haven’t taken the time to really reflect on this.  I have seen folks in other situations lose patience with the rambling Elder.

There is an Elder in my District who does speak at length.  I have left him, wondering what he was saying.  I have grown impatient with him, though I have never said that out loud (only once ever interrupting him because I had to meet my mother, an event he pointed out would be unforgivable if I failed to show). Sometimes we need to reflect on the lesson taught us in these discussions, because they aren’t always apparent.  This particular Elder is always teaching, in his own fashion, but I worry that we aren’t always listening.  I suspect he speaks in this fashion on purpose, so that we have to stop and consider what he is saying, take the time to reflect on his words and his intent.

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