Not many people would consider themselves radicals. Some would never want that label. While some radicals—Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., or even Jesus—receive high praise for their countercultural actions, as a whole, radicals often get reputations as the bad apples that spoil the taste of a movement for everyone. But one of the most positive radical acts you can practice is something you already do every day: Listen.
Communication scholar Susan Zaeske first proposed the idea of listening as “radical activity.” That does not include the act of pseudo-listening, which can take on many different forms: being halfway engaged, taking in conversation while glancing back and forth from the screen of your phone to the face of the person speaking, mulling over your own thoughts, or planning out what to say next—all while nodding with lackluster interjections of “yeah,” “uh-huh,” or, “mmm.” Intentional, compassionate listening—the lifeblood of Someone To Tell It To—is a type of accessible radicalism or, if you’d prefer, everyday activism. It flies in the face of our fast-paced, individualistic society because it involves time and sacrifice. It’s not an agendized item to schedule, but an investment in your relationships. When continually practiced, compassionate listening goes from an action to a lifestyle and becomes more natural the more you practice it. Both the listener and the speaker reap its life-changing benefits. And though you usually won’t see instant results, the multitude of long-term effects make persistence worthwhile.
Unlike traditional activism, which can affect entire nations, compassionate listening appears to only improve a small group of people. However, if practiced on a large scale, compassionate listening could change our families, friendships, communities, and even our world. We have become so accustomed to small bites of (mostly positive) updates through social media, or to responding to questions like “How are you?” with a simple “Good,” or “Fine,” because it’s supposedly more polite and socially appropriate than taking the time to really share our lives. It might seem radical to call someone instead of texting or to ask a profound, pointed question over text instead of sending a funny cat picture. But what if we began to passionately rally around the act of listening as if it really were a movement that could change the world we live in?
In his book, The Listening Life, Author Adam McHugh said: “Imagine a society of reverse listening, where those who would normally expect to be heard, listen, and those who would normally expect to listen, are heard. I dream of a place where leaders listen to followers, adults listen to children, men listen to women, the majority listens to the minority, the rich listen to the poor, and insiders listen to outsiders.” Let’s work toward building a society like that one. Let’s start by embracing our “everyday radical” side and facilitating a deeper connection with someone today.