Twenty years ago next month in Texas, while I was six months pregnant with my first son, working in a teen outreach program and in graduate school, a gunman entered a church in Fort Worth and opened fire on teens from across the community who had gathered to pray for their schools. Armed with guns, bombs, and malice, the gunman killed seven people and injured dozens before taking his own life.
Although I was not in the church that evening, several of my friends, classmates, and local youth were. As a counseling and community outreach student, I became part of a community-wide deployment to offer listening ears in hospital waiting rooms, school libraries, and community centers across the area. I repeatedly heard students, parents, and neighbors asking, “why did this happen?” and, “what do we do now?” Friends, as a grad student I had no real answer. There were so many suggestions swirling around—more policies needed, more regulation, better mental health services, better security…--on and on the solutions went and conversations raged. But in that moment, in that place, there were no immediate answers. What people needed most was to know they were not alone, that there were caring people surrounding them. They needed to have a safe space to speak out the things swirling in their hearts; they needed to be heard.
This weekend two mass shootings happened in our nation, one in Ohio and one in Texas. People on my team have family members who were present at one of those shootings, so the hurt hits close to home even from states away. What stuns me is how quickly 20 years have passed and how even more quickly that moment in my graduate school experience comes right back to the forefront of my mind in the wake of our nation’s freshest unspeakable tragedies. Two decades later we are still in need of safe space. We are still in need of community connection. We are still in need of understanding “why.”
Bill Ury is the co-founder of Harvard’s Program of Negotiation and known as one of the world’s leading experts on negotiation and mediation. He travels the globe utilizing his skills to bring peace between people and among nations. In his TEDx talk “The Power of Listening,” Ury says, “listening, I believe, is the missing half of communication.” It’s about connecting authentically because “hearing the human being behind the words, I could understand deepest need and …move toward understanding.”
According to Ury, genuine empathetic listening helps us understand the other side, helps us connect with the other human being, building trust and demonstrating care, and it makes others more likely to listen to us in return. He has a self-described audacious dream of building a revolution of care and connection. “Listening,” he says, “may be the golden key that opens the door to human relationships.”
Our Community Listens has that same audacious dream. Our organization exists not as a be-all-end-all of any kind but as just a part of the societal puzzle. Through teaching empathy, care, listening, leadership, and service, we are equipping people with tools for Truly Human connection. Our dream is to influence a society where people care about each other first, a place where we share the art of seeking first to understand, connect, and care on a truly human level. And with that, dear friends, we can each be a part of the solution, a piece of peace.
Twenty years and much life experience later, I still cannot fully answer the questions posed to me in the school library listening sessions that day, but I can care, connect, understand, and let the loved ones in Ohio, Texas, and in our own homes know they are not alone. And with that human connection, we are moving toward communities where people care about each other first.
If you’d like to be part of the listening revolution, if you’d like to be a part of the solution and a piece of peace, find out more ways to get involved at www.ourcommunitylistens.org.
Listening, learning, leading beside you,