Learning to Listen in the Midst of a Global Pandemic and an Awakening of Social Justice

2020 has certainly not been the year I’ve expected or planned for. In many ways, it feels like the world is on fire. When I first heard about the coronavirus spreading drastically in China, I felt a sliver of compassion for the people of China and then went about my day. Shortly after, it became clear that not only would China be affected but the United States was also threatened by the same kind of spread. As a country, we’ve learned what it means to “shelter in place” and “social distance” and “quarantine.” I would assume that I am not alone in feeling that anything else hard happening in our country, let alone our world, is just too much. Enter Ahmaud Arbery. And then Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and many others highlighting police brutality against Black people in our country. Their deaths led to protests around the nation and the world along with a rising tide of conversation on racism in the US and a call for social justice. There has been a never-ending amount of news articles and social media posts all vying for our attention as we try to stay informed and educated and make decisions which then begs the question– how do we really listen in a meaningful way? 

As a mental health therapist, I consider it my job to listen and to listen well. I have received hours and hours of training and education on using listening effectively in the therapy room and have taught active listening skills to countless clients. And yet, I find myself challenged to know how to listen on a personal and a societal level as the heaviness of the coronavirus and calls for the end of racism become louder and louder. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

  • People are hurting and long to feel heard. This is not a new insight so much as one that has been highlighted in the last few months. Especially in the most recent wave of deaths by police officers, there is an outcry for the end to long-standing injustices, both on our social media feeds and in our cities as thousands protest across the country. As a white person, I now have a deeper understanding through these voices of the pain that I haven’t experienced and the long history of fighting and waiting for justice. I’ve learned that privilege has allowed me to be unaware of this suffering far too often. I’m practicing being quiet as I attempt to learn and understand through listening and have found that this can be a small piece of the healing process.
    Try these questions as a way to process how you’re listening: When we are listening, what are we listening for? Is our intent to learn more? Are we trying to understand the perspective of others in a deeper way? Are we listening to solidify our beliefs or have a transformation in our thinking by listening to others?
  • Listening often requires us to sit with our discomfort. For those of us in the majority culture, we often take being heard for granted. We’ve been raised to believe that our voice matters and our experience has often confirmed that belief. The Black Lives Matter movement reminds us that Black voices matter and that our culture has often not shown this as a value. We’ve been called to amplify Black voices and to listen to what those voices have to say. This can often lead to discomfort, which often sparks our desire to defend ourselves or explain it away. In this context, really listening could mean not responding in defensiveness or justification and sitting with our own discomfort internally for a bit as we process. As Americans, we are accustomed to our freedoms being ultimate. In this current pandemic, listening looks like being willing to sacrifice some of those freedoms (like wearing a mask) because we understand that it’s for the greater good. Scientists are telling us that wearing masks slows the spread of COVID-19 and many people have shared personal stories about immuno-compromised family members that need others to wear masks for their protection even more than the average person. We can choose to listen by aligning our actions with the collective good instead of our own comfort.
  • It is important to filter the voices we listen to so that we can prioritize listening to the ones that offer truth. The amount of conflicting headlines available in relation to COVID-19 is enough to make your head spin. Some claiming conspiracy, some claiming science, and some claiming nearly everything in between. Limiting my news consumption has become essential to not being anxious all the time. There is a balance to be found between informed and overwhelmed and I think each of us has to practice self-awareness to find what boundary lines we need to draw so that we can make wise decisions without constantly living in fear of the worst.

So Where Do We Go From Here?

There’s been a sentiment going around that maybe 2020 is the year that we learn to do things differently in our world, hopefully in a way that promotes compassion and equality for all people. We can choose to see the hardships in our world right now as an opportunity to self-reflect and evaluate ourselves. Let’s use our urges towards defensiveness and our feelings of anxiety as checkpoints to evaluate the root and then lean in and listen more as we embrace discomfort for the sake of others. 

If you feel that you could use someone to help you navigate these complex dynamics and your own inner beliefs, reach out to Milestones at 443-574-4295 and we’ll match you with a therapist who is the right fit for you! 

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