#338: Listen First
For my day job, I support teachers as an instructional coach. The first thing you learn in coaching school is how to listen. This seems basic but is harder than it seems. The reason is that educators who have left the classroom typically want to “fix the teacher” as quickly as possible. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t work. Plus it’s disrespectful. The only way we get better, after all, is if people care about us and believe in us.
I think this is probably the case outside of education, too. But ever since the 2016 Election, and particularly since March 2020, the idea of listening to people – of having sympathy and compassion for people – has become rare, especially if they disagree with us. As my good friend from college says, “Why be friends with your enemy?” Besides, we know that people in general don’t change their minds. And maybe empathy shouldn’t be the goal in the first place, as we explored in Issue #226?
Maybe I’m a sucker, but I still believe in listening to people and believing in their capacity to change. This week’s issue includes four articles on the theme. My favorite is “My Father, The Fool,” by Richard Russo. I highly recommend it. If you have time, you’ll find that the other pieces – about caregivers, militiamen, and empathy tips – will also provoke your mind and heart.
+ This month at Article Club, we’re discussing “Children in the Garden,” by Devin Kelly. Featured in Issue #328, it’s about long-distance running, the nature of endurance, the beauty of the ordinary, and the importance of play and lightness in our lives. Find out more and sign up here.
At the height of the pandemic, author Richard Russo gets a call from his wife’s sister, who watches FOX News and remains proudly unvaccinated. She’s sick with COVID. Mr. Russo’s knee-jerk reaction is I-told-you-so. Why do you have to be so foolish? But then he thinks of his father, who once had a stiff neck and instead of seeing a doctor, said, “I know a guy.” It didn’t end well. Maybe we’re all a bit foolish, Mr. Russo suggests. We all do things that don’t make sense. Instead of spending our energy feeling superior, maybe we should stop and listen. (18 min)
Artist Danny Valentine was 55 years old and on parole after serving a 23-year stint in prison when he answered a phone call from a woman who needed help. “I just can’t do it alone anymore,” the woman said. “Can you please come?” Mr. Valentine said yes, and in this touching story by Kelly Loudenberg, went to care for the woman’s husband, who was suffering from dementia. “Some people are good at writing, some people are mechanics.” Danny said. “I’m good at taking care of people.” (40 min)
+ Who would you say yes to?
Donna, who belongs to VIP Clare, looks out at the horizon at Angeles National Forest and contemplates life. What is it all for? she asks. Want your pet to appear in The Highlighter? hltr.co/pets
Notes On The State Of Jefferson
What happens to your sense of compassion when members of militia groups threaten blood in the streets and another Civil War? Residents of conservative rural counties in Northern California, frustrated by their state’s liberal policies, and feeling aggrieved that they have no power, want to secede and form their own state named Jefferson. In this well-written piece, author James Pogue does an outstanding job messing with the stereotypical Harper’s Magazine reader’s emotions. Just when you have a read on Patrick Henry Jones and Carlos Zapata, you learn that you don’t. (25 min)
+ How did you feel when you read this piece? Disgusted? Sympathetic? Superior? Threatened?
Feeling grumpy lately and want to practice some empathy? In The Highlighter’s first-ever how-to guide, you’ll gain some tips on how to get out of your bubble and get out into the world. Suggestions include: “Talk to new people” (Really?) and “Be honest with yourself” (You mean it?). I’m interested: Should this newsletter start including ways to apply what we’ve read and other calls to action? Please let me know if you enjoy this kind of content or find it gimmicky and annoying. (17 min)
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