In order to be heard, we have to learn to listen. Listening can be simple, painless and easy; it can also be complex, painful and hard. Either way, we have to learn to listen if we want to get past just hearing what is being said.
This is how to listen to others:
Open my heart and mind to others
Release my assumptions about others and their interest and ability to speak for themselves
Make space for others to speak for themselves
Be quiet and listen
Ensure opportunities for others to speak for themselves always exist in perpetuity
Continue always to stay mindful about my voice, my listening and my actions that affect others
Be aware of my conscious and unconscious impact on others
Step aside so others can speak for themselves
Advocate for others to speak for themselves
When they are absent, speak for others who cannot speak for themselves
Build my ability to listen
This isn’t meant to be completely comprehensive; instead, its intended to hold space for people who want to learn what they can do for themselves and others in order to build their ability to listen.
What would you add? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Staring at our phones is just the beginning. Wagging our fingers, scowling at the world and isolating ourselves are symptoms. Seeing our lack of humility, facing the challenge of vulnerability, and harnessing the power of love are solutions. This article is about the crisis of self-disconnection in the world today, and how to overcome that crisis by acknowledging, enriching and empowering the connections we already have in our lives.
Despite the well-meaning teachers, community leaders and writers trying to teach us, people believe they’re doing all this alone more than ever before. Almost all of us are afflicted by this, too. Whether we’re burned out suburban parents or aspiring entrepreneurs, social media pushes us to post vain selfies, push arrogant self-promotion and cultivate images of narcissistic glory. This is afflicting old people, young people and everyone in between.
I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning wishing they were more self-centered. Sure, we learn to take care of ourselves and remove unnecessary drama from our lives, but that doesn’t make us oblivious to the needs of those around us and beyond.
Somewhere along the way though, people can become manipulative, unconsciously forcing their friends, family and coworkers to do their bidding, become their minions, and fulfill their demands with no intention of supporting others, building community or lifting those without power or ability.
Forcibly demanding others bend to our will, conniving to change others’ thinking without their investment, and alienating those who care for us can separate us from the people who care the most about us.
“…I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love.”
Dr. King was killed because he saw the power of love for what it is: An infinitely accessible, directly effective and wholly powerful instrument to fight arrogance, conceit and ignorance. At the same time he was determining this, there was a contradictory force rising in the garage of a young inventor in suburban Washington state. A machine meant to harness the capability of individuals and built on the premise that each man is an island unto his own, the personal computer became one of the most isolating forces humankind ever faced.
Through the decades afterwards, technology became more and more alienating and separating, but not without the veneer of interconnectedness. Relying on the internet as a worldwide superhighway for knowledge, ideas and opinions, computers have become smaller and faster, further allowing and encouraging individuals to believe they’re acting in a vacuum without obligations to others. To be clear, personal computers and the Internet did not create narcissism; however, they’ve exacerbated it beyond the wildest imagination.
“Everywhere we learn that love is important, and yet we are bombarded by its failure….This bleak picture in no way alters the nature of our longing. We still hope that love will prevail. We still believe in love’s promise.”—bell hooks in All About Love: New Visions
We can rectify this challenge. It will not be an easy or simple fix, but it’s tangible and present. The answer has been present for millennia, and even though its under-credited, history shows it repeatedly. In his 1855 book called Where Love Is, God Is, Leo Tolstoy showed us the basis for this understanding when he wrote, “Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love.”
Through the wisdom of Dr. King, as well as many others like bell hooks, Angela Davis, Mahatma Gandhi, and Caesar Chavez, we can begin to craft approaches to love as a tool, a possibility and a gift for transforming the world we live in. Love is the single greatest resource we have, and moving from seeing it as a poetic plaything towards enacting it as a passionate, powerful instrument will help us actualize the reality that another world is possible.
We each have to rely on the power of love to overcome the arrogance, conceit and narcissism trying to overwhelm our hearts and our communities. This requires that we move love into action.
Moving Love Into Action
In 2017, Senator Corey Booker shared powerful words on Twitter when he wrote,
“Love is not a being word, it is an action word… When you see hate out there, understand that the challenge will never be the hate of some, but the silence, indifference and apathy of the many.”
Throughout my career, I have sought and struggled to harness my own commitment to putting love into action. Living in a patriarchal society that emphasizes machismo over vulnerability and highlights individuality over interdependence, my work has been chagrined for being too compromising, too sensitive and too aware.
I have learned from the words I’ve shared here as well as others, and I’ve learned the following lessons for putting love into action.
Feel Your Heart. Feeling feelings can be scary. It can feel weak. It can be thankless. And you need to do it anyway. Feel things relentlessly, no matter what they are.
Let Go Of Entitlement. Meant to keep us from the pain of trauma, entitlement is generally unrealistic and unhealthy, and prevents us from relying on ourselves to heal.
Be Aware Of Your Suffering. When you experience hard times or big challenges, you can suffer. Anxiety, depression and hurt come from this. Be aware of this and what it leads to.
Serve Others Relentlessly. Caesar Chavez said it best: “Being of service is not enough. You must become a servant of the people. When you do, you can demand their commitment in return.”
Love Without Inhibition. There’s a certain recklessness that’s implied when you move beyond the “bosh” love Dr. King explained above. Be about it, love without inhibition and move into a new space that is unstoppable. When enough people love enough ways the whole world will change.
These lessons are not a road to happiness; they are a call to love. Even though those two words are not synonymous, they aren’t far apart. Moving love into action is a brave, ridiculous, essential thing that we all must do if we’re going to change the condition of the world we’re in today.
In her 2012 book Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, Cheryl Strayed wrote, “You will learn a lot about yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. Be a warrior for love.” Love is not really a radical new thing, but if that’s how we must see it to become warriors for love, then let’s see it that way.
A lot of us working with youth today came from hard times. Whether we came from adversity or trauma, or if we grew up in challenging ways, we have to take care of our heart. The times we live in today are conscientious and aware of how these hard times affect us. This article is about surviving youth. Your youth.
What Is Your Youth?
Your youth is two things: First, it’s the time you lived when you weren’t seen as a child or as an adult. Second, it’s the young people you are meaningfully connected to right now, whether they’re your children, students, program participants or otherwise. Youth isn’t “yours” in terms of possession; it’s yours because you are engaged in youth, whether we’re talking about the time of your life or the people you serve.
You need to survive your youth if it’s affecting your adulthood in negative, hard or challenging ways.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve facilitated self-care learning for thousands of teachers, youth workers and other adults who work with youth. Many people have shared that their awareness of the adverse childhood experiences they lived through as young people shine through in their current jobs. They specifically work to support young people growing up with abuse, household challenges and/or neglect, and they’re very committed. These people are surviving youth.
3 Ways to Survive Your Youth
Many people are surviving the challenges of their younger years at the same time they’re working to support young people. When we work within these realities, we have to be precautious, patient and promising for ourselves.
Here are three ways I teach people to survive their youth.
Be Precautious. Your experiences make you relatable and grant you powers of reciprocity. However, they can make you vulnerable, too. If you haven’t addressed your childhood trauma intentionally, if you haven’t addressed your wounds and sought healing, then be precautious. Even if you have dealt with your suffering and challenges but still hyper-react, overreact or otherwise act disproportionately to the situations, you might need to continue being precautious. Take care of your heart.
Be Patient. While you may want to challenge your own inabilities or charge into changing yourself and the world, you should be patient. Your calmness and self-control can be a model for the young people you work with, however you positively express them. If you feel anxious, excited or too ambitious, be patient and know that the challenges of your younger years are teaching you right now. Allow calmness to hold your heart.
Be Promising. Seeing a greater picture, understanding the wider world and knowing the best possibilities are the best way to be promising to yourself. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and don’t promise things you can’t follow through. However, hold your heart accountable, listen to your intuition and keep yourself true and honest with what you know best. Set the bar for your heart and keep yourself accountable.
Surviving your youth is essential to being a hopeful, supportive and effective adult ally to children and youth. The steps above can help you understand where to begin doing that. There are a number of great resources emerging in the field, and more organizations are supporting their staff dealing with their trauma as well as promoting trauma informed care throughout education, youth services, at home, throughout communities, and beyond.
However, ultimately you need to deal with your youth. Soothing the inner challenges can only go so far, and these steps are simply triage for the complex wounds you might have. Deal with those challenges, get help and move forward in your career, your family and throughout your life.
After working in hundreds of communities nationally, I am primed to explore this more. Call me to talk about my consulting, training and speaking services at (360) 489-9680.
“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.”
While a lot of things in our world want us to watch shiny, flashy stuff going on around us, the practice of personal engagement encourages us to look inside. That doesn’t mean you have to sit uncomfortably and call out “Om” for answers, or spend hours journaling alone in your backroom.
When I look inside, I’m most often in a contemplative space.
When you take a look inside you might be sitting in traffic or getting dressed for work; walking your dog or grocery shopping. Of course, you can meditate, do yoga, journal or paint, or do anything that you know gets you inside of yourself, and away from the world.
Becoming personally engaged means we learn to do look inside on purpose, instead of by accident. Personal engagement is a choice we make in our every breath, whether consciously or unconsciously. Engaging in a practice of personal engagement means that you are choosing to become engaged on purpose.
Here are a few ways I looks inside myself.
Get alone. Whether I’m rushing through the airport or cooking dinner, when I want to look inside myself I have to get alone. That means turning inside myself and away from everything going on around me. When I do that, I can hear the small inner voice that animates my heart, and I can hear what it says. Sometimes I need to go away from everyone else, while other times I can be alone in the middle of a crowd. Either way, getting alone lets me look inside myself.
Still the racket. Good ol’ Carl Jung. “Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” I have big eyes that like to see the world around me. I love traveling, exploring, being enticed by motion and getting absorbed in doing things. However, to look inside myself I have to still the racket. I have to acknowledge the things distracting me and then consciously, deliberately look away and turn them off.
Hear the small inner voice. In the middle of everyone is a small inner voice calming waiting to usher us through life. This voice is our connection with the middle of us. For me, it can come in the dark of night when I’m rolling around and unable to sleep; as I walk down the street and I’m approached by someone for a few dollars for a coffee; or when I’m rushing around and trying to do too many things at once. Its can be inconvenient! But its always true. Your small inner voice is waiting to talk with you.
Looking inside is an avenue towards personal engagement. In his classic work, Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse wrote,
“‘I shall no longer be instructed by the Yoga Veda or the Aharva Veda, or the ascetics, or any other doctrine whatsoever. I shall learn from myself, be a pupil of myself; I shall get to know myself, the mystery of Siddhartha.’ He looked around as if he were seeing the world for the first time.”
What are the ways you look inside you? I would love to hear your ideas – please share them in the comments section!
The sound of flip flops slapping across the old oak floor of the gym greeted me every hot summer night of 1995. That year, I was a determined youth worker in the neighborhood I grew up in. The news blared to the rest of the city that our hood was racked by gang violence, drug abuse and rampant vandalism and theft. I thought it was home.
I was a goofy 20-year-old white guy who moved from Canada as a kid to grow up in a hood I knew nothing about. I was jumped more times than I could count for ten years of my life. Crips and Bloods and Vice Lords roamed our blocks at all hours, with drivebys, drug deals and all kinds of crap happening all the time.
I could have been afraid of life then, and I wouldn’t have been wrong. But instead, I found inspiration in the strife and disruption; motivation from the pain and struggle. My parents struggled to teach me better, and their friends expected more from me. Adults who mentored me, including ministers, nonprofit workers and cultural teachers in the community, helped me decide early who I was and what I wanted to do in my life. My fears didn’t have a choice but to be allayed.
Eventually the sound of flip flops slapping went to the back of my mind, but the fear of living hung around somewhere in the back of my mind.
Growing Into My Future
A lot of life has conspired since I moved from my hood. I’ve made mistakes, learned lessons, built some things, destroyed others, made amends, held hands, grown vegetables, prayed, stolen, travelled, taught, broken stuff, and all the other sundry things some people do when they’re living. I’ve loved some people who’ve stayed on straighter and narrower paths than me, and envied others who veered so far astray that they never made it back.
It was when I was a youth that I found my trajectory in life. Growing up as a homeless child of a Vietnam veteran, border hopping ad naseum and unable to develop healthy attachments to the world around me, I struggled to make meaning in the world around me. However, as my life became more stable and I grew more adapt at learning (both through formal education and self-learning), I became more capable of finding meaning, constructing knowledge, critically evaluating, and sharing what I’d been through, as well as going into new experiences again and again. Transferring learning from one situation to the next, keeping an open mind in new situations, and critically thinking about what I’d experienced and learned let me become a knowledge creator, instead of simply collecting learning from other places.
All these experiences, from the “slap, slap” of flip flops to the challenges, rewards and realities of daily living have constantly startled me into living larger and more spectacularly than I ever expected to. The fear of living stayed in my imagination along the way though, as I moved from being a youth program worker to becoming a youth researcher and trainer, and then as I transitioned towards writing and speaking more. I’ve found that knowledge isn’t armor: As I’ve learned more, I’ve become more vulnerable and insecure. Where I stand, the world is becoming less and less firm under my feet, and I’m becoming more anxious to move. For a while now, I’ve been afraid of confronting the reality that I face today, rather than living in a projected fantasy that simply isn’t what’s happening.
This insecurity is the fear of living.
I am not a fearful person. I am generally not an immature person. However, just like everyone, I have my moments. Sometimes I am a chicken; sometimes I flinch; and sometimes I disappoint myself and others.
The days when I’m not busy ill-serving myself, I expect that I will grab a hold on my life, and do what Charles Fillmore affirmed to himself every morning at the age of 93:
“I fairly sizzle with zeal and enthusiasm and spring forth with a mighty faith to do the things that ought to be done by me.”
I want to live that! There’s the book I’m afraid to write, and the physical shape I’m afraid to get into. There’s the studying I’ve been neglecting, and the speeches I haven’t given. So many flights to be taken and world to experience, and the classes I want to teach. I want to love another person freely and endlessly, and raise more kids – I love kids! There are places I want to go with my family, including my awesome daughter, my wise mom, my spectacular sister and my best friends. I want to have great long conversations with old friends, and make new friends in places I want to be. There are so many things and places and people and opportunities and experiences I feel I’ve only been preparing for in all my life, and so much ahead of me that I look forward to.
Those aren’t the words of a fearful person. I hold onto life truly and honestly, and I hope for all that’s ahead of me to happen, good, bad, ugly and lovely, all of it. They didn’t come to me overnight.
Five Ways I Challenge the Fear of Living
In order to move ahead in my life, I have used a lot of different ways to embrace what I’m doing, why I’m doing it and when its getting done. Here are five ways I face the fear of living.
Affirm what works in life. Whether or not your life is filled with suffering and pain or happiness and fulfillment, there are things that work in your life. When I’m feeling most fearful of living, I affirm what works for me by writing it down, drawing it, and otherwise naming it. Sometimes that kicks my butt back into seeing hopefully.
Listen to people who aren’t afraid of living. I talk with people about life a lot. In my workshops, I regularly lead participants through exercises that let them celebrate what they’ve done by sharing it with other people. If you can’t see fearless people in your own life, then listen to music, read poetry, watch movies and do what you can to listen to people who aren’t afraid of living.
Give thanks. When I’m afraid, I find that I’m refusing to face things in my life. Whether its a deadline, my bills, projects, my relationships, or any other situation that I don’t want to face at a particular moment, I have to face my fears. I start doing this by giving thanks for the things in my life that work, have worked, expect to work or simply want to work. Sometimes I give thanks for other things too.
Name what doesn’t work. When I’m struggling, I have to be honest about what doesn’t work in my life. Instead of spouting off random disappointments, I get deliberate and actually name what I’m struggling with. That can be a firm, strong and pointed way to face my fears and make a change. If I lied because I was afraid of living, I name that. If I ghosted people because I was afraid of living, I name that. If I screamed, cursed, cheated, stole, manipulated or otherwise didn’t something that didn’t work, I name that. There’s power in facing my fears head on.
Take action. I have to do something to make a difference. When I’m feeling afraid of life, I try to face it head on, and the best way for me is to do that is by taking action. That action can be as varied as the ways I show my fear of living. Facing my fears often starts with making honest amends to others. My apologies can be a simple “sorry”, or much more. I have to get vulnerable though, and be earnest with the people I’m apologizing to. Other times it means getting back on my bike after the crash and giving it another go around. I’m scared to do that, but I still will. It means actually talking with people who I avoid, even when I don’t want to talk to them. It can mean being candid, and sometimes it means being bold. I want that book published, and I’m going to tell the publisher that I’m a good risk just because of that determination. But in some way, I take action.
I might never overcome my fear of living, entirely. I might not feel like challenging it somedays. However, I can always face it, and the steps above are how I’ve learned to do that.
I may not know much about living or loving or being, but I know that when I follow my own intuition and do what’s right for me, my life feels more familiar to me, more knowable, and mine. That’s a good, firm and real goal for me, because when something is mine, I’m not afraid of it.
Working with the people in the places where I do, I am often forced to adopt a label. These last few years, I’ve taken to alternatively calling myself a speaker, facilitator, speaker, author and other things. While none of those are inaccurate, none really captures what I do.
What I really do is help people learn to engage more people, more effectively. Using a lot of different methods for doing this, I have spent my entire life doing this. While few of the titles I’ve ever had captured this, my livelihood remains the same.
Want to know how to engage anyone, anywhere? Here are three ways.
How To Engage Anyone, Anywhere
Learn What Engagement Is, and What It Isn’t. Many people want engagement to mean everything to them and their business, organization or life. They want to be engaged all the time in every way they can. In reality, engagement will not allow you to do that. The definition of engagement is “any sustained connection to anything within or around ourselves.” The key phrase there is sustained connection. From an ecological perspective, sustained doesn’t just mean long-lasting, but also includes healthy, welcomed, effective and meaningful. Learn the difference between what you’re trying to engage others in, and what engagement is not. Do you really want people to engage in your topic, activity, place, culture or otherwise?
Speak to the Heart, Touch the Mind. Don’t try to engage with the ways people think about things. Instead, engage with individual peoples’ Heartspace. Heartspace is the engine of personal engagement, and is entered through feelings, emotions and experiences as well as thoughts and ideas. Work with people, not at people; create opportunities for people to do for themselves without creating opportunities for you to do more for them. That’s speaking to the heart and entering personal engagement through Heartspace.
Stop Trying to Engage Other People. Basically, the challenge is for you to accept responsibility. If you’re concentrating on engaging other people, you aren’t focusing on engaging yourself. If you’re engaged in yourself, other people will want to become engaged in whatever you’re engaged in. Like attracts like. The converse is true too: If you’re disengaged, others will not engage in what you’re trying to engage in. That means that if people aren’t becoming engaged in what you’re trying to engage them in, its truly because you’re not engaged in it yourself. The principle behind this concept comes from the Mahatma’s charge that we, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Those three ways to engage anyone will work in schools, community programs, government agencies, businesses, at home and throughout society. What do you think? Share your thoughts, ideas and responses in the comment section below!
There are a lot of people working to change the world right now. They’re caught up in writing the Great Handbook, building the Perfect Website, organizing the Ultimate Protest, and securing the Most Support for whatever they’re doing. Everyone thinks they’re doing their part, hopes they have the most effect, and wants to make a difference.
I’m one of these people. For most than two decades of my life I’ve been working to change change the world. Starting as a young man, I was involved with movements for environmental justice, self-empowerment, anti-racism, and youth voice. My career has built on that action, and has focused on youth engagement, student voice, and community empowerment. I have continued volunteering and donating my resources towards those causes too.
I’m at a point in my life when much of this action seems like its no longer effective, and some part of me struggles with whether it actually was. I even wonder who reads this blog anymore, since I rarely hear from anyone.
In my 20s, I heard a lot of older people harp on the notion of acting locally and really focusing energy on local change. I blew that out of the water with my world-focused work through Freechild and SoundOut, as well as my national and international consulting practice. Now, I understand why they insisted on acting locally; otherwise, you feel like you’re yelling into a vacuum.
The noisy, noisy world doesn’t allow us a lot of room for comfort, if we’re engaged authentically within ourselves. It insists we learn to get quiet and do small things, rather than trying to scream over the din of daily life.
This work of changing the world reminds me of the lesson about the seekers: “Not knowing how close the truth is to them, Beings seek for it afar — what a pity! They are like those who, being in the midst of water, Cry out for water, feeling thirst.”
The world is already changing, and a new world is being born every day! Let’s take comfort in that, and allow everything to be what it already is. The world is changing, changing, changing… Is there anything more we need to do?
I’ve learned to go under the log laying over the trail more often than trying to climb over it. I get my knees dirty, but get to see the sky when I’m coming back to my feet. Standing afterwards, I can see where I dragged my feet, and my palms are dirty. But I wore jeans for this journey, and with a rustle of the leaves on the path, my tracks are gone.
All of life offers these movements, including blocked paths. It might not be pretty or expedient to crawl underneath these obstructions, but sometimes we’re forced to by our own will or lack of desire to climb. Other times, we’re simply following our mind’s logic. This is life.
What does your mind say to do most intuitively right now? Where does your heart take you? What are you yearning to be connected with?
“This is the threat to our lives. We all face it. We all operate in our society in relation to a system. Now is the system going to eat you up and relieve you of your humanity or are you going to be able to use the system to human purposes?
…If the person doesn’t listen to the demands of his own spiritual and heart life and insists on a certain program, you’re going to have a schizophrenic crack-up. The person has put himself off center. He has aligned himself with a programmatic life and it’s not the one the body’s interested in at all. And the world’s full of people who have stopped listening to themselves.”
For all my attempts to explain personal engagement, it comes down to this: Engagement is a mystery in which everything works the ways it works, no matter how I try to understand it.
Not a path
As much as I want to rely on them, engagement is not a process or a pathway. Instead, its a million stars scattered across the night’s sky, pulsating and gyrating to a universal heartbeat I can only dream of. The rhythm is mostly beyond my grasp, while the melodic tune that’s played is felt and never actually heard. The beauty is that everything is engaged right now exactly how it should be, no matter what is happening, right now. And now. And now.
Engagement is not linear, and it doesn’t lead from here to there to there. As a culture, we are fixated on sequence. However, engagement doesn’t necessarily lead toward anything in particular. I am almost wholly incapable of articulating the apparent bookends of engagement in our lives, which are birth and death. I can’t really describe what happened to me accurately at birth, since the experience became nearly imperceptible once I found the words to describe it.I surely won’t be able to explain the feeling of death, because like almost everyone on the planet, this show will be over once it happens.
Change in an instant
In between, my life has been devoid of grand resolutions to my engagements. While I like to point to jobs and relationships and moving, in the vast majority of engagements throughout my life there has been no final conclusions, and few great endings. Everything can change in an instant, and without ever expecting it I can be in touch with people I thought lost to the sands of time eons ago. Logical, sequential successions in my engagements are rare as well, as I generally don’t hop from one stepping stone to the next in a clear way. Instead, I wiggle and waggle according to the whims and winds of the moment. I’m not an udder-less boat drifting on an ocean; I am a star among a universe. You are too.
If you’ve walked through your engagements on clear and narrow paths, congratulate yourself on lively conversely to the massive majority of humankind. However, you might want to acknowledge that there is a forcefulness, a personal violence, that is inherent in that way of engaging in the world. It requires constricting the soul and submerging our nature in order for our Ego to reign supreme. Ego, that solemn force of will over our lives, demeans the inherent spirit of all creatures by lording itself over the pieces in the puzzle in order to make a picture. In reality, there is no picture.
It is what it is
Instead, engagement simply is. Everything exists in perfect relationship to everything else, without there being a logic or model hard at work behind what’s going on. The gods aren’t shooting lightning bolts and nature isn’t out to get you.
The opportunity here is to relax into engagement and to relax into life by knowing and being with the things that sustain you, that you feel most connected to. Go where your heart is, love as much as you can, and trust that everything is going to be exactly how it should be. That is the mystery of engagement, and where Heartspace truly is.