Posted by: MC | November 11, 2010

Just Listen

Yesterday I came home, grabbed the blue nylon bag I use for light trips to the grocery store, and took off in search of … well … Rice Dream.  Really – borderline hippie; soy, dairy and gluten free.  It’s my latest answer to the love song of my sweetest tooth.

To walk to the grocery store, I take the back steps and follow the sidewalk around to the front of the house.  This time I glanced absent mindedly toward the front of the house as I passed.  My eye caught on something out of ordinary.  It was a man.  An old white man, bearded and way under-clothed for the bitterness of the day.  Odder was the fact that he was tucked right up next to the front of my house, behind the thinning rhododendron.  His body laid there, eyes closed, no cover of blanket or cardboard.  I could not tell if he was breathing.

I wondered if he was alive.

The thought, “damn recession!” crossed my mind.  I decided to call the police for help.  There have been a few too many assault situations involving people infuriated with despair or illness or some other deep pain.  I went with deference to more skilled public officials.

The police officer filled me in.  The man was, thankfully, only drunk.  He was breathing.  Social service folks were on the way to take him to a warm shelter to sober up.

I have no doubt there are as many stories along the path from birth to passing out in a stranger’s front yard as there are on the paths that lead to shopping at Nordstrom and troubling over the behavior of the NASDAQ.  Some are stories that bring compassion; others are stories that are anything but complimentary.  I also have little doubt that the people on each of these paths have little sense of life in the other circumstance; although it is common for people of fewer means to be far more informed of the presence and ways of the privileged than the other way around.  Nonetheless and finally, I’m pretty sure that, whatever the capacity, all of these lives have at least some measure of joy, and they have pain.

Here’s part of the challenge.  The attribution most Americans learn to make to those among us who are down on their luck is personal.  By that I mean that people who are poor, homeless, pushing carts, flying signs, sleeping on the sides of roads or up next to random houses tend to be seen as somehow blameworthy as if their circumstance is only their fault.

I am sure this is one of my reasons for being a fan of listening across differences – especially the ones that make the listener most uncomfortable.  Almost without exception, I find that listening provides me with new information.  Most often that information is in profound contradiction to the stereotypes to which I would default were I not to listen.  And that goes for people across the range of circumstances – from dire to opulent.  Whether we like it or not, we’ve all internalized stereotypes about all kinds of people.  Those rigid stories turn out to be the source of immeasurable hostilities of personal interaction and public policy – the worst likely being war.

In direct response to this problem, I and the talented and generous EX:Change volunteers keep taking the next step in walking the talk of a project based on listening to people who know the world in all sorts of different ways.

The website is growing –  We’re moving toward putting together a trailer for a documentary.  And last night I spoke with a publishing house that may be a perfect match.

That’s all good for EX:Change – and with or without that news, the essential goal of the whole idea remains the consistent issuing of what at some point becomes an irresistible invitation for all of us to listen to each another.  Just listen.


  1. Congratulations on the movement happening in EX:Change! And I am really pleased to learn of the documentary plans & the publishing house interest. Yahoo! thanks, Mary

  2. You are inspiring. I’m thankful for your commitment to hearing all different perspectives and sharing your observations and others’ voices with the world. Yay for you!

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