Seek First to Understand...
I think Stephen Covey knew exactly what he was talking about (as if he needs my endorsement, right?) when he came up with the 7 habits. One of Dave's and my favorite ones is "Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood" (Covey, 2004). I know you are sitting on the edge of your seat in anticipation of me telling you why. I believe that, with all that is going on in the world right now, it is a perfect time to drag this one out from the corners of our minds (dust-bunnies and all) and ponder on it. We are living in a world in which people are "unfriending" friends and family because someone said something with which we disagreed. And, boy, are there things on which we disagree. But Covey's "habit" tells us we should simply see (not believe, necessarily) another's point of view before having our say about the topic.
Once every two weeks at our Episcopal church in Tucson, we practice what we call "For God's Sake, Listen", which is simply a listening protocol designed to get those of us who are interested to think about what we think about a particular topic. Yes, you read that correctly. We are tasked to think about our own thinking on a subject such as coffee makers (yes, that was really one of first topics), write our thoughts, feelings, and wonderings about the topic, then listen while, one by one, each of us (in our groups of approximately 4 - 5 people) shares what we wrote. The kicker is: one person shares, then the next person shares without commenting on the 1st person's share, then the next person does the same, and so on, until everyone in the group has simply shared their initial thoughts. Then, and only then, do we open it up for discussion. But the point is: the first step was simply listening to all people in the group share their own truth. The next part is having a spokesperson from each group share highlights from the discussion with the whole group. Not every week is about coffee, of course. Today's topic was: white privilege. We conducted it over a Zoom meeting after our "substitute priest" for the day had preached on the topic of his own experience with white privilege. The experience for today's session of "For God's Sake, Listen" was interesting, as we broke into breakout rooms on Zoom, but the protocol remained the same, allowing people to first share their own truth then listening to others' perspectives. Some people are simply in the question-asking phase; others are in the "I've experienced discrimination in other ways" phase; others, still, are in the "I recognize this is a huge problem; I just don't know what I can do about it". I think this is a perfect example of seeking first to understand, then to be understood. What better time to listen to the experiences of our friends who are Black before we start telling how we feel. As for "Black Lives Matter", we've all heard the rebuttal of "All Lives Matter". A dear friend of mine (with whom I did a Habitat for Humanity build in Africa two years ago) had an answer that I just loved, mostly because it put it in an analogy I could "get". She said, "Of course all lives matter, but right now, the house of our Black friends is on fire, so we need to focus on that one right now." I suspect the house has been on fire for a couple of hundred years, but we are hopefully finally taking notice. Seeking first to understand, then to be understood helps me put this in perspective. I hope it does for you, as well. As an lifelong educator, I have a unique perspective that involves how this oh-so-important topic impacts our schools. There is no question, there is an issue of the "haves" and "have-nots" but there has also always been a question swirling around my mind about how we think we can make public schools that are struggling perform better if our "quick fix" seems to be to create charter schools which take students (and the money that goes along with those students) away from those schools. Shouldn't we, instead, focus on boosting those struggling schools? One of my dear doctoral students just virtually graduated yesterday, and as I saw Dr. Reggie Wicker's face light up the screen on the live Facebook graduation, I kept thinking about his own dissertation that examined how we can increase the Black male mentorship of Black boys in schools. Will his dissertation change the world? Maybe not. But I have a sneaking suspicion that it is going to make a difference in the schools in which he works. I am privileged to have worked with him, and I thank God for allowing him to give me some new insight and perspective on this topic.
Just for today, maybe we could consider what we believe about "white privilege" and how we have accepted any myths we have grown up believing. Perhaps might be the time to examine those myths and what we think, feel and wonder about those myths. And above all, "For God's Sake, Listen!"
Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People: Restoring The Character Ethic. New York : Free Press, 2004.
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