Listening as a Practice to Effect Social Change

Finally!  I thought I had looked for just this very thing, this description of a day in the life of an organizer–whew–it does exist.

My only experience had been as a follower of best practice in community organizing–not quite clear enough on what I thought I knew about it. I found it impressive.

The most essential part of this description of a day in the life of an organizer for this moment is a practice of listening with purpose.

But first, the heart of what drives this style of community organizing: It aligns coalitions before identifying objectives. I repeat, for this is radical:

  • the people unite by circles of relationships and
  • then together define the priorities.

NOT what we think of when we think of social justice activism, which is normally issue-oriented. Again,

  • First organize. People of the Earth, unite!
  • Then strategize.

Oh, heck, too late.

Time to strategize ad hoc. Unite any way you can, where you can. And this will effect two aspects found in this model for unifying a fractured and imperiled race.

  1. It recognizes the constellations of relationships that surround every individual, all their connections and affiliations.
  2. It opens a doorway to each interaction to be an opportunity to de-escalate.

The two methods, relationship-based vs. issue-oriented, are not mutually exclusive. Note how they both probably appreciate the information gathering called “windshield surveys.”

The windshield tour.

Windshield surveys are systematic observations made from a moving vehicle. Walking surveys are systematic observations made on foot. Either or both can help you better understand either the community in general or a specific condition or aspect of it.

Notice the listening practice in the windshield tour. The walk through the neighborhood: what stands out?

Notice in your own reviews of the first two weeks after the election the pattern of cataclysm/shock/dismay/outrage/ or escalation of hostility now vindicated. Some voices of calm and clear vision? These voices lead me to see the gift in the warning we have been given, with time to prepare. There is time. This is a test.

This is only a test.

This is only a test. We can pull through this. The one-on-one listening strategy is a great way to move forward to reduce the divisions and hostilities permeating our thoughts, words and actions. From the handbook linked above, the one-on-one is a strategic listening practice to listening for the other’s self-interest.

In PICO, the first step in any organizing effort is to listen, and the primary vehicle for listening within the PICO model is the one-to-one. A one-to-one is a 30-minute face-to-face conversation whose purpose is to discover the self-interest of another person. Initially, these conversations help organizers and leaders alike to:

  • Build relationships with new people and to deepen relationships with old friends
  • Discern the core values of a community
  • Name common problems and shared concerns
  • Identify potential leadership for the organizing effort

Later on, one-to-ones become a valuable tool for thinking with, preparing, and challenging individuals within the context of their development as leaders.

This practice in trained listening can be applied to all intentional relationships, as all relationships should be. It happens on many levels, but during this test that offers a chance to find where preparation is weak, the listening is turbo-charged because now we really must know what the other’s self-interest is, we must know their bottom line, because we must unite.

So you must have the strength, the faith and the confidence to wait, to look and listen. Do not shut people out. Really listen to them. Listen for Knowledge within yourself as you listen to them. If Knowledge is not responding, beyond simple courtesy, you do not need to respond, nor should you. —Discernment in Relationships