Tips, Videos, Handouts

A Culture of Listening

In this video Craig explains some highlights from an essay that was just published called A Culture of Listening. Read the essay for yourself right here!

It’s an essay about a conversation among people with different histories, different values, and different interests. It has hidden lessons for civic dialogue and building community.


This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here. I just finished reading an essay, I want to tell you about it. It’s called, A Culture of Listening – restoring civic dialogue where lives intersect on the land.

This essay was written by my friend and colleague Amy Scott and a guy named Peter Forbes, her collaborator. Peter runs something called the Center for Whole Communities [Actually, Peter was the co-founder but doesn’t run it anymore. He is a facilitator based in Vermont]. Amy runs something called the Bethel Area Nonprofit Collaborative.

Bethel is a town in western Maine; lots of mountains and lots of dependence on the land for different things. You might say that Bethel is going through a transition; a long transition from a logging, forest-based economy to a tourism, recreation based economy. And these different types of uses of the land are often in conflict with each other. Amy and Peter convened a conversation in Bethel among people who have different interests in the land, different history with the land, and frankly different values.

They started this conversation not by identifying shared values. A lot of us who convene conversations among people who are different are apt to start with identifying things that we share, but in this case they realized that if they were to start a conversation around shared values that might actually alienate a lot of people because people might think that they don’t have the same values as the conveners and therefore not participate in the conversation.

So instead they began by identifying different values and accepting that different values are okay. We can think of things differently; we can believe different things and still the part of the same community and still build a shared future together.

Another thing that Amy and Peter did — which in my opinion is a little distinctive — they realized the importance of history. I want to read you a quote here. I might paraphrase a little bit but this is right out of the essay. It says, “A foundational step of civic dialogue is better understanding the land-and-people history and the social dynamics that have resulted from that history. Exploring and revealing history demonstrates active awareness of something that is real in another person’s experience and that’s essential to creating a welcoming context for civic dialogue.”

It’s like, “You know, if you had the same history that I have had, you would believe the same things I do!” By understanding each other’s history and by understanding the history of our community, we understand where our values come from and why they’re different and it’s not because we’re just bad people and don’t like each other. Our values are a result of our history.

The essay is called, A Culture of Listening and that’s because when Amy first approached Peter about doing the project she told him, “I want to create here in Bethel a culture of listening.” And Peter said, “That’s brilliant because listening is the foundation of relationships and relationships are the foundation of community.”

Thanks for listening.

I hope this helps you help your group make good decisions.

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