What does it mean to “listen”?
The verb “listen” means to give one’s attention to a sound. As a noun, it is an “act of listening” to something. Especially for the past few decades and even the past few centuries, it occurs to me that there hasn’t been a lot of listening taking place.
George Floyd’s murder at the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer has changed that. Change is taking place not just in Minneapolis, not just in Minnesota and as James Baldwin put it not even in “… these yet to be United State of America”*!
People are moved. People are taking action. People are listening.
It remains to be seen if those who are listening, those who are in the streets crying out, demanding change, those who support those in the streets, have the will, the power and the voice to make change occur.
A look at history shows that it took decades of agitation, protest — and listening — to achieve concrete change.
- In 1776, only white men over 21 had the right to vote.
- Back in 1840, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were barred from attending the World Anti-Slavery Convention held in London. That action eventually led them to hold a Women’s Convention in the U.S. It would be 80 years before American women received the right to vote.
- In 1856, North Carolina was the last state to remove property ownership as a requirement for voting and therefore allowing all white men over 21 to vote.
- In 1870, the 15th Amendment was ratified granting African American men the right to vote.
- In 1872, Susan B. Anthony was arrested in Rochester, N.Y. for trying to vote in the presidential election.
- In 1920, the 19th Amendment guaranteed all American women the right to vote. (It begs the question: Does that mean before 1920, American women weren’t considered U.S. citizens?!)
- In 1924, Native Americans were allowed to vote with the passage of the Snyder Act.
- In 1964, a grass-roots movement allowed for the Civil Rights Act to come about that outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. That fight had been going on for over 100 years.
- In 1971, the voting age was lowered to 18.
- In 2020, a black man, George Floyd, was murdered by a white policeman in Minneapolis and people took to the streets all over the world crying out to be heard and demand a change in police practices.
All of those historical milestones occurred because people demanded to be heard. People listened. People took action. People voted for change.
In my own experience, I’ve found the best tool to allow me to listen has been the teaching of The Landmark Forum. When I first did the course in 1996, I was going through life challenges and wanted to create a powerful context by which to live. The Landmark Forum gave me that and much more. It also revealed that I don’t listen. While I may not listen to everyone all the time, I now recognize very quickly when I’m NOT listening. Then I can choose: to listen or not to listen. That’s powerful.
Listening is available to all of us. Mostly, we’re just unconscious of that fact. We actually do have a choice to listen or not.
What seems to have caused the current social unrest to spread from where I live in Minneapolis to around the world is people LISTENING.
When we listen, when we take action, we can change the world.
What if we always listened to each other and then took action**?!
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* Mya Angelou interviewing James Baldwin for Assignment America 119, American Archive of Public Broadcasting; Conversation with a Native Son.
** Presidential election, Nov. 3, 2020.