Listening with TING!

Listening…often times we hear, but how often do we listen.  Truly listen to what others are saying.  Most times, when we are in dialogue, especially with those with whom we disagree, we listen until we have a point to make.  Then we stop listening.

An example from my classroom.  A student who was white, female, and grew up in rural upper Michigan was sharing of a time when she showed compassion to a family who was African American when they were encountering racism.  She talked about how she was not exposed to diversity in her hometown, but knew what was happening was not right and made a stand.  In fact, given this was her first semester in Ann Arbor on the first day of class, her experience thus far had been the most diverse setting she had ever been in.

Unfortunately, in sharing her story, she used the term “colored people” to describe the African American family.  As soon as she said these words, there was a sudden groan in the class and nearly every person of color and white ally immediately raised their hand hoping I would interrupt her story and let them speak.  I knew quite well what was on their minds.  I could see the anger and frustration in their eyes.  They were triggered and wanted to make sure she knew this.  I did not call on anyone.  Rather, once she had stopped speaking, I calmly thanked this student for sharing her story, for acting as an ally in this situation, and welcomed her as a learner and someone new to diversity.  The looks of students in the class was that of stunned.  I paused and then said, I do want to let you know however that the term colored people is out of date and that the preferred term would be persons of color.  The student was embarrassed and apologetic and claimed she did not know.  She stated that she would do her best to learn this new term and not repeat the old term again.  I thanked and acknowledged her once again.  Slowly, the hands started to lower and though confused by what just happened, they allowed the class to continue.

In social justice education, many believe that what they say and the message that they deliver is what is most important.  How can we convince others that our vision of a socially just future is the right one?  I’d like to suggest that perhaps this can sometimes be a misguided approach and that the most important tool is to listen.  Truly listen.

When we truly listen, what do we hear?  According to the ancient Chinese symbol for listen or “ting” which is embedded above (Huang-Nissen, 1999), listening consists of the following.  We listen with our ears. We listen with our eyes.  And we listen with our minds.  This is not so surprising.  We also listen with our heart, for the emotions that are being conveyed by the speaker.  But why king?  According to Huang-Nissen, when we listen, we should give the speaker the respect of royalty.  Why oneness?  We listen for the oneness of the message, for common ground.  We listen for some truth that we might have missed.  Something we can affirm, so that the speaker knows that we have truly heard them.  And the funny thing about this is, when we truly listen to others, they are more likely to hear us.

7 thoughts on “Listening with TING!

  1. sandrahdiaz says:

    Thank you for sharing that wonderful story Mike.
    I agree that sometimes we aren’t truly listening to each other, we are just waiting for our turn to speak. I think we’ve all been guilty of this at one time or another. I know that sometimes I get very passionate during a discussion and when my emotions take over it’s hard to remember that conversations are supposed to be an exchange of ideas so that we can learn from each other, not an opportunity to push my own beliefs and values.
    Not long ago I was listening to a program on NPR about listening. It was a great program and I remember the guest speaker saying (unfortunately his name escapes me now), “that listening is an act of love.” when we give someone our undivided attention and listen without judgement we are providing them with a safe space in which to exist as they are a be heard – and I think we all need that.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Mary Jo Adgate says:

        And this is why I’m so sad I never got to take a class with you. I don’t know if you remember, but we had a conversation on the bus ride to DC on our way to a protest. I have never forgotten it. I was writing a paper about non-violence movements and whether there was ever a role for violence, like harming someone while you were defending yourself in DV or against other perpetrators. You told me about aikido and it’s approach of love and doing the least amount of harm to the attacker while defending yourself. I even took lessons for awhile :-). That conversation that could have been awkward with other people left me with something that I come back to over and over again in my life choices. And now I have this article to add to it. Just wanted to say thank you!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Claudia St Amour says:

    We need to see with the eyes of our heart, and listen with the ears of our heart and try to truly understand what the other person is trying to say – without judgement or rebuttal. Thank you, Mike for this living example of how it all works!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. snamiko says:

    Happy Saturday, Mike!

    I appreciate this post for many reasons. First, it’s a really good reminder about the obvious message: listen before you speak. Second, it brought back the training my co-worker gave a few years ago to our agency about the importance of active listening. Wilma, my co-worker / trainer taught us about the concept of “Ting,” and this concept has since stuck with me–I even printed out the character and put it on my wall as a constant reminder to practice this seemingly simple task.

    I struggle with this a lot in my personal, professional, and student “lives”. I’m Portuguese…with that comes the instant stereotype of being someone that talks a lot (especially with his/her hands). I’m not sure if I was conditioned for it because of the constant jokes I heard growing up or if this is really a product of genetic expression, but I really do talk a lot and I don’t listen enough. I call myself out on this all the time. Ironically, and as luck would have it, I’m married to someone who is an excellent listener…and my family teases me relentlessly about it because he’s a man of few words.

    One thing I learned over the years to add to this is the concept of listening with appreciation, which is a difficult art form to master, especially in social work practice. In life (and in the field) it’s very trying to be able to listen without judgment, personal bias, and without interjecting or finishing one’s sentence, and I’m actively working on this all the time…I feel like I miss out on so much authenticity of a situation because of my inclination to help someone finish their thought and possible impatience.

    Thank you for the reminder–I needed to “hear” it.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Spencer says:

      I’m a talker too. One day I will write a post on non-violent communication. It is something that I have tried to incorporate, often with great difficulty, but I try nonetheless. The concept of ahimsa is critical to this. Perhaps you have motivated me to make this my next blog, especially with the new government in place and such. It is a skill to be practiced, but also a way of life. Mahalo for your comment and honesty, Sharla!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. jkasocialworkuh says:

    I had never heard the idea of “king” and treating one like royalty. It makes total sense though as their beliefs and self should be treated with that kind of respect, especially if you want the same in return. The idea of oneness always seems to allow people to understand and find a common thread that exists between us. I like that and the combination of ways to listen.

    Liked by 1 person

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