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  • Alisa Stamps

Listening and the Importance of Dialogue

It wasn’t until I read Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire that I had even thought about the idea of listening and dialogue. It was my first semester of grad school for social work and really the first time that I had read anything so profound. I mean, this book changed my life. The whole idea of the “oppressed becoming the oppressor”—I’d never thought about anything like that before. I also had never before explored the idea of listening. What it was like to hear someone else and have them really hear me.

I didn’t come from a family of “listeners”. I actually came from a family of “talkers and oppressors”. Listening was not an example I had grown up with. The most I ever felt listened to was when I was on the stage. In a previous life, I was a professional actress/singer/dancer and I imagine I originally fell in love with theatre because it was there that I truly felt listened to for the first time.

Now I listen to others every day, all day, and I am fortunate to be able to do this for my living. I try to engage in many “I thou” moments, as we say in Gestalt, where there is an even exchange of both listening and dialogue on the part of my clients and myself. Paulo Freire states that, “dialogue is the interaction between people who critically think about the world together”. This is so true in therapy, and I interpret this as I, the therapist, critically thinking and exploring the inner world of my clients with them. They know their worlds--I am just a learner when it comes to their worlds. When we begin to critically think about the world on a macro level together and the client’s relationship with that world and environment, that is when the real work of therapy begins.

And how about the world right now? A global pandemic that leads into a historic time of civil unrest and social justice demonstration? Anyone else feeling tired and overwhelmed, while also feeling hopeful about the unity that is being displayed in the Black Lives Matter movement? Anyone else feeling like maybe, just maybe, some people are beginning to listen? Freire also goes on to say that, “education and political change must be dialogic to achieve freedom, compared to the anit-dialogic nature of oppression”. Are we witnessing a dialogue finally happening? One that will have lasting effects?

It is my hope that not only we will achieve this dialogue in the world, but that my clients and I will work to achieve it during our sessions as well. To do this we must learn to listen. We must listen to one another in the most authentic of ways. Listening without waiting to speak and without judgment, which quite honestly is easier said than done. We must breathe in the silence with one another and acknowledge the fear, anger, confusion, or whatever else comes up during that silence and name it together. This is our starting place. This is our place of direction. It is from there, and only from there, that we can begin to finally listen and heal.

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