March marked the season finale of winter term’s Self-Care Series put on by Co-Curricular Change Makers. Previously addressing stress-relief topics such as journaling and our connections to music and sound, the Human Services co-curricular capped off the series with a session on venting and listening. This event took place 9 weeks into the term, in the dead of winter, during a pandemic, in a town that hardly seems capable of producing a decent chocolate chip cookie, so you can bet your full savings that we all had a lot to say.
Liz Pearce, Change Makers’ faculty advisor and LB professor extraordinaire, was accompanied by special guest Lisa Hoogesteger. Hoogesteger works in academic advising as well as health and wellness outreach. (You may have seen her fantastic Wellness Wednesday columns in our very own Commuter!) Pearce opened the event by posing a question to all of us virtual attendees: Could we think of a time when we felt genuinely listened to and heard? What did it feel like to be listened to, and how could we tell that we were being heard?
After some quiet contemplating, Pearce invited us to share our answers informally; the Zoom chat filled up with key words like ‘validation,’ and ‘comfort.’ Some participants noted how effective it was when their listeners put their phones away during conversations, others said it was helpful when the focus wasn’t on fixing the situation, but rather when the emphasis was solely on the listening portion.
Likely, these points can resonate with most people. (I had an ex who would prop his phone against the water carafe at restaurants while we were on dates, so it wasn’t too impossible for me to relate to the group’s findings.) That said, while we know how it feels to be listened to, do we, ourselves, know how to be good listeners? Are we problem-solvers by nature, and therefore immediately jump to fix the problem? Are we true-blue empaths, and in turn try to relate our own experiences when someone else is sharing theirs?
When taking us into the event, Hoogesteger reminded us that ‘our relationships are a series of conversations, and our words are our currency in connecting with each other.’ She pointed out that powerful listening stems directly from caring, which is what can be felt in those conversations, and is often demonstrated through eye contact and the ability to speak without being interrupted. And while these things may seem obvious, and we may think we know the basic skill of listening, our strengths and weaknesses become clear when we actively practice these skills.
Which is exactly what the attendants of this event did next.
Pearce put us into one-on-one break-out rooms, where we were given the opportunity to take turns talking and listening. The format was loose, able to be tailored and fitted to the participants’ desires and needs. Some guidelines of boundaries and respect were given at the start of the event, which set a safe and welcoming tone for the one-on-one sessions later on.
My partner and I didn’t waste any time on small talk, rather, we dove right into the deep, dark topics that had been weighing on our respective minds. The consensus? It was pretty easy to divulge our personal troubles to a stranger! We both kept all the guidelines of listening at the forefront when sharing ourselves, which helped to cultivate an environment of safety and comfort.
As someone who’s been talking to therapists for the last two decades, I’ll jump at the chance to let a stranger know all my gritty issues, especially when the sliding scale is slid to ‘free.’ My partner said they, too, felt lighter after our mini session. However, no one’s problems went away (can you believe it?). Death and heartbreak and betrayal and world hunger and climate change weren’t solved in those 20 minute sessions. And yet, we both left the Zoom room feeling a little more at ease.
Venting and being listened to won’t erase all of our issues, but it can offer us some comfort, validation, and clarity. It is with this powerful trilogy that we are afforded the breathing room necessary to move through our days in a lighter way. And with more light.
While the Change Makers will be focusing on recruitment and redefinition for spring term, keep an eye out for their presence at the LB Preview on April 14, as well as their contributions during Mental Health Awareness week.
If you’re interested in joining the co-curricular, they are absolutely accepting new members! Send Liz Pearce an email for all the juicy details: email@example.com.
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