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Listening as an act of rebellion
In a society where short synopses of everything are in high demand, whether in a meeting, on Twitter, or on the news, we lose nuance and we lose comprehension of complexities.
-Suzanne Al-Kayali

by Suzanne Al-Kayali


Most women will know the feeling of being in a room with mostly men, waiting patiently to say their piece. As women - we listen. Listening is anything but a passive activity.

In the act of listening we are able to absorb information. Listening provides pause for introspection, consideration and an invaluable moment to convert what we are hearing into memory. It may be a fallback or default position for many women, especially those in male-dominated fields, but it can also be anyone's best attribute.

Many scholars write about our need as a society to listen. They describe how the human mind is best able to absorb information when we are able to reflect. In fact, time is necessary for the brain to be able to recall or remember information.

I have been trained to listen. In school, when I served tables, when I rented apartments, I had to listen because I had to understand where another person was coming from. What they needed was the key to my success, a better tip, a faster sale. And now, as an organizer, it is essential to the job ... listening to a community, to a board, to a society, whose needs may not be expressed in words but actions or inactions. Listening is what makes us better.

What does it mean to actively listen? I believe, now more than ever, listening can be an act of rebellion. In a society where short synopses of everything are in high demand, whether in a meeting, on Twitter, or on the news, we lose nuance and we lose comprehension of complexities. It is in the act of listening that we are brought closer together.

Storytelling is an ancient means of communication; it brought us the necessity of listening. The story of Ulysses was told as an oral tradition. So were all of the stories of Shakespeare. At a time when hardly anyone knew how to write or read, oral tradition was key. The most paramount part of storytelling was the act of listening. The influence on society of these stories changed the way people understood their own lives. The stories allowed them to reflect on themselves. To see how they were living in the same or in different situations. The act of listening expanded our cultural horizon of possibilities.

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Women know all too often the role of listening in our personal interactions. Imagine the ability to listen on a grander scale. If we were able to hear out the immigrants, the women, the LGBTQ community, the poor, the unemployed, we would be so much closer to addressing issues that affect our communities, our families and ourselves. Listening is the simplest of acts and it is always political.

Suzanne Al-Kayali is the executive director of Women Against Military Madness (WAMM). www.WomenAgainstMilitaryMadness.org

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