The Path to Social Change: Listening to the Voice of Others

We live in a constant state of proving that we are experts. What we say, how we say it, to whom we speak—all collective marketing efforts that we use to broadcast to the world about how competent we are and why you should listen to us. But, what if social change is more than a constant state of marketing, proving, and validating our claims? What if the true power of change is found in the power of listening to others, specifically their stories? How do we get out of the way of our own egos, in order to learn from and be validated by the views, opinions, and foundations of knowledge that make up the stories of those that surround us on a daily basis?

Early in Bill Moyers’ political career in the Johnson administration, he is given a pearl of wisdom from Lady Bird Johnson regarding how he should compose himself in the presence of powerful politicians:  “Don’t worry. If you are unsure of what to say, just ask questions, and I promise you that when they leave, they will think you were the smartest one in the room, just for listening to them.” Does this advice run counter-culture today, when we are taught that the loudest expressed opinion should be taken as the gospel, regardless of whether it is true or not? It takes a person secure in their views of self to be quiet and listen to others. However, I argue that it takes an even stronger person to be willing to ask questions that go beyond surface level, seeking to draw out glimpses of the truth that are buried deep in the tough soil of the soul.

If you are interested in finding a way to impart positive social change in your life and in the lives of others, adopt a listening ear. Don’t seek to qualify the views of others through your own filter of understanding; although, that is my biggest struggle when listening, I want to validate others through my own experience, which only speaks to my arrogance thinking that I have the authority to do such. Perhaps it is allowing uninterrupted time and unfiltered space to freely express oneself that enables understanding.

The stories of people throughout the world need to be heard; nothing holds more power than a well-told story. But as long as we need to be right, directing the story of others through a spoken word and not a listening ear, we will never personally or socially change. Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From, speaks beautifully about where being right will lead:  “Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.”

I am tired of being in the same place, it’s time for me to listen deeper to others, allowing their stories to guide and direct my life through a desire to explore new ideas. If that means I need to be wrong, or risk not being right, then so be it, because isn’t perfection in the eye of the beholder anyway?

2 replies on “The Path to Social Change: Listening to the Voice of Others”

Great post, Chris. Reminds me of that book “Listening Is an Act of Love.” If you haven’t read it, you should.

Thanks for the suggestion Mike. Added to my “queue” at the library. Always looking to read great books.

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