In June I had the privilege of leading a workshop as part of the Susanna Wesley Foundation annual conference. The workshop was entitled Facilitating Conversation that builds compassionate communities and was an introduction to a booklet that I've produced for the SWF called Diversity, Otherness and Privilege: a Conversation Guide.
The booklet is aimed to be a resource for small groups looking to ask challenging but necessary questions about how we connect with people who are different from us, and how we recognize both our challenges and our advantages in serving our community.
The workshop offered three characteristics of compassionate listening, which I described as 'bearing witness to the other person listening to themself'. ('Him/herself' is, I decided, more ungainly than 'themself'!) The three characteristics - briefly - are:
Generous listening - listening charitably so that people can start from where they are as they learn to build relationships with people who are different.
Attentive listening - listening without an intent to reply, setting aside thoughts of 'I know exactly what you mean, let me tell you what happened to me'.
Holistic listening - listening to the spaces between words, to what is left unsaid; paying attention to body language and gesture.
The description and characteristics owe a lot to learning about Quaker practices such as clearness committees. Parker Palmer writes about holding a space for another as like holding a little bird in the hand.
My description and characteristics reflect my desire to make space for emergent new connections to oneself and the other, and to resist limiting ourselves and labelling each other.
We tried out two listening practices:
Timed turn-taking - in threes, each person took a turn being speaker, listening, and timekeeper. Each speaker had seven minutes to speak about how the idea of privilege plays out in their life, while the listening paid attention. If the speaker ran out of things to say, the trio kept silence together until the seven minutes elapsed.
Talking stick - indebted to my incomplete learning about indigenous North American practices during my Restorative Justice studies, the talking stick (or stone) is passed around a group of 5-6+ and only the person holding the stick or stone can speak, while the others listen. Groups talked about how the notion of privilege plays out in their faith traditions or worldviews, in beliefs and practices.
Each of these practices balances space with boundaries and can be a good way to equalize voices in a group. So, I pass along the wisdom I've received for anyone to use. Contact me if you'd like more information.