Archive for November, 2008

Nov 26 2008

The Greatest Gift: A Season of Listening

The Greatest Gift: A Season of Listening


Did you hear the series on National Public Radio the week of Thanksgiving, in which newscasters participated in very personal interviews with family members and loved ones? It was part of StoryCorps’ project to create an annual National Day of Listeningon the Friday following Thanksgiving. StoryCorps, which collects recorded interviews from everyday people around the country and then stores them at the Library of Congress, was inviting every one of us to find someone whose stories we would like to hear and record—stories of that person’s earliest memory, for example, or stories about what she is proudest of in her life; stories about when he felt the most alone or what it felt like to hold his own child for the first time; stories about serving in the military or going to school; funny stories, sad stories, stories that have been told over and over again or have never been heard before. Here’s how, StoryCorps suggested: Just create a short list of questions, then sit down with a friend or family member or with anyone you’d like to get to know better, and (if possible) record your conversation—not for the national archives this time but for your personal archives.

            I love everything about this idea. I love the invitation to spend a part of the post-Thanksgiving Sales Day—when we are expected to shop until we drop—having a deep and loving conversation instead. I love the recognition that there is alwaysmore to learn about someone, even when we think we know him or her through and through. I love the idea of reaching out to near-strangers and demonstrating our interest in them and our respect for their unique worth by asking them to share their stories, all the while creating new and meaningful relationships in the process. I love the idea of creating a day when we intentionally offer each other the gift of listening.

            But the National Day of Listening may be over by the time you read this, so what are we to do? Wait a whole year until it comes around again?

            Of course not! Let’s create a Season of Listening right now. It starts the moment you read this column and continues through New Year’s Day. Participation is simple: Once a week, ask someone to spend about half an hour to 45 minutes with you. Tell them you want to hear their stories—that this is the best holiday gift you can give each other.

Here are some tools that will help make this spiritual practice of listening easier and more inclusive:

1. Go to, and scroll down to the “Do-It-Yourself” guide for creating an interview. Follow the simple steps that StoryCorps suggests. If you want to generate a really interesting set of questions, click on “Question Generator.” (I have had such fun using this tool to create questions for my spouse Kevin and my dear friend Terry; some of the questions took me by surprise!)

2. Take a look at the list of Multicultural Competencies that accompanies this column. These suggestions help us to move out of our comfort zones and get to know others across seeming cultural or social divides. They can deepen even the most comfortable and familiar conversations by encouraging us to set aside our assumptions and approach our interviews with respectful and passionate curiosity.

3. Finally, have fun—and please share what you discover about yourself and about this gift of listening with our spiritual cooperative!

May your holidays become warmer and richer through this gift of listening!


With my love,        







Multicultural Competencies

Adapted from Building the World We Dream About:

A “Welcoming Congregation” Curriculum on Race and Ethnicity

by Mark Hicks


When we are competent in “multicultural communication”:

  • We can listen and behave without imposing our own values and assumptions on others.
  • We carry with us an attitude of respect when approaching people of different cultures; this requires that we engage continually in a process of self-reflection and self-critique. We thus have the ability to move beyond our own biases.
  • We can maintain a communication style that is not based on arguing or competing, on trying to overwhelm someone with our “compelling evidence” or on establishing who is “right.”
  • We are curious about the other person, and we seek solutions to problems and approaches to projects that work across the shared interests that we discover.
  • We are comfortable asking questions when we are uncertain or unclear about the assumptions of an individual or a group.
  • We intentionally seek to see, hear, and understand the cultural “other.” We actually seek out opportunities for multicultural communication.


Notice that we don’t have to be “excellent” at any of these skills! Our goal is competence in multicultural communication; we are striving simply to build skills, attitudes, and abilities that will grow with each new experience.

How often might we use these skills in our everyday lives in Silicon Valley? How might these skills enrich our spiritual cooperative at the First Unitarian Church of San José?

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