Thus far, I have been writing about the communication of trees and plants and how that relates to our own social systems as people. This fascination in the voices that we do not hear and a desire to bring awareness and appreciation to the importance of those voices was what inspired the Voices of Nature series. Lately, however, I have been thinking about the voices that we do hear and how and whether those audible, sometimes blaring, sounds impact us. I will get back to the trees because their story is largely untold, but for now, I want to step back.
Hearing does not equate to listening. Hearing is a physiological recognition of a sound but active listening is a two-way engagement. Active listening is where we clear our mind and devote our attention so that we process sounds in a manner that generates a meaningful response by the listener. Maybe it is finding peace in the calls of the birds, which seem louder amidst a confusing pandemic (and by the way, research is showing they are not louder but that they are actually quieter because they do not have to
project as much over our noise, but I digress…). Maybe it is the sound of a loved one saying that they are doing fine on a Zoom call, but you can sense their sadness in not being able to give you a hug. Maybe it
is the silence of not being able to be next to a partner when they take their last breath or bring a new life into the world during childbirth. It is so easy to get caught up in how COVID is changing our life but are we still practicing active listening to all the ways that our lives can change our world? Or the realities experienced by our extended communities? Or even our own voice inside ourselves encouraging us to follow our journey and review our values? Sometimes these voices can best emerge in moments of
silence, our own or each other’s, where the quiet sounds seem louder. Also, some of the most powerful things are said in those unsaid statements.
I work in Brunswick, Georgia, which you may have heard of before, and if you have not, you likely have heard of us recently in news about Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was shot and killed while on an afternoon jog. The story is tragic in itself but is worsened by the fact that I (and most of the community) did not hear about it for over two months, even though it occurred 15 minutes from where I live. I thought I was listening. His family was making sounds, but we could not hear them through the silencing above us. I have had to face my own naivete that things like this surely would not happen here and in 2020. I have had to face that I need to be a better listener in my local community. There now are people speaking out about Ahmaud all over the world. Perhaps if we listen more, such things are less likely to happen.
Intent listening is another term that I like even better. It assigns a responsibility to listening. It is listening in a way that allows the speaker to be vulnerable yet safe when communicating. The listener can lend support to the speaker by feeling what they feel and together they collectively contribute to betterment of both of their well-being.
I am part of the Just Energy Academy offered by the Partnership for Southern Equity. Our speaker this week, @LizaGarza, introduced us to an exercise called a story circle. You can do this in pairs or groups (and you can even do it on Zoom!). Each person took three minutes to tell their story based on a prompt. Examples are: For what are you grateful?; What have you experienced that was hard but brought growth?; or What do you feel you can offer to the world that is special? During each person’s storytelling, we listened intently – no crosstalk or thinking forward to what you were going to say next. In just three minutes, I learned so much about my partners and I felt bonded with them. Imagine what we can do to have long-term impacts by listening to what each other is actually saying for even just a few minutes!
Liza also said that paying attention is the basis for revolution. I believe that we all want change even if it we may not agree on what needs to change. Sure, we all have different stories, different walks of life, different socio-economic status, different colors of our skin, different voting preferences, and different styles of communication, but we ALL are inhabitants of the planet Earth, ALL at this point and time, and we ALL breathe the same air and require the same physical and social nutrition. We ALL feel vulnerability and fear and deserve a safe place where we can be listened to so that we can be supported and heal. We ALL can revolutionize how we listen. We ALL can practice intent listening so that we can be better stewards of our relationships with people and our environment and progress our society to an ideal, yet achievable, existence where all voices are heard and all life is valued. These voices are also the voices of nature, of our natures.
The sounds that we miss are sometimes silent or undetectable to the human ear, but not always. I can hear alarm calls going off all around me from people, from animals, from plants, from the planet. They are loud and unsubtle, and I must listen. I hear songs from the beautiful things that also are happening around me, and I must listen. I hear the inspiring possibilities that can be inspired by the alarm calls alerting us of the lessons and betterment that should come from the mistakes we are making in how we care for each and care for Earth. I am not sure what I am to do next to serve my community and my planet, but I am sure that it will only be revealed to me if I listen to the voices around me, with my fullest and deepest intentions. And, in the meantime, I am going to vote.
Let’s hear what you have to say. Please share your voice on our Facebook or Instagram pages. And if you try the story circle, what did you get from it?
We are here to listen. And thank you for listening to our voices.
Written by Dr. Kimberly Andrews, Director of Earth Programs