Listen Up! It Could Change The World

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These people are listening very closely to what’s going on around them.

They have brought all of themselves to this moment.  So did I.

Listening carefully to the musical  audio sculpture by Janet Cardiff , “The Forty Part Motet“,  now being presented at The Cloisters in New York,  got me thinking about how we listen.

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What extraordinary things could be accomplished by Congress and the White House if folks simply listened to each other, and went beyond the echo chamber of their own narrow structures of belief?

What if the interviewers on Sunday morning TV, or heaven forbid, highly opinionated talk show hosts, really listened to what they were being told, and challenged their guests and callers in a way that proved that they were learning something from the experience?Wouldn’t our media landscape sound a whole lot better?

There’s a really good piece on this for journalists called The Power of Listening.  “To be a good interviewer you must learn to listen — both to others and to yourself,” writes The Poynter Institute’s Chip Scanlan.

“A lot of times we beat ourselves,” says Pat Stith,  a former investigative reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer. “We don’t listen. We don’t ask simple, direct, follow-up questions. We just talk, and we talk, and we talk.”

How right he is. How often have you heard a radio or TV interviewer move onto the next question on the list without asking a good follow-up question?

Yet when the microphone is put into the hands of amateurs the results can be miraculous. Storycorps proved that.

“In 50,000 interviews, nearly every time, people have cried in the interview,” said David Isay, the founder of the oral history project StoryCorps, which celebrated its 10th birthday last week.

“Listening Is An Act of Love” is the title of a wonderful collection of everyday stories  from one-on-one interviews that were recorded inStoryCorps kiosks set-up around the country over the past decade. 50,000 interviews have been collected so far.

Now these people were really listening to one another.

My first encounter with StoryCorps was when a good friend and neighbor, Louisa Stephens, asked me to go down to the booth at Grand Central Station.  It was one of about a hundred 50 minute Storycorps interviews Stephens has done at Storycorps with friends and family members.

Having someone sit down and listen carefully to you for that amount of time is deeply flattering. The experience can be transformative, with powerful results. (Business and political leaders, take note).

Which brings me back to Janet Cardiff at The Cloisters.  If you can, go there and wander among the 40 speakers that are arranged in an oval in a reconstructed 12th century Spanish chapel.  Each mounted speaker has the voice of an individual choir member who is performing a 16th century composition by the English composer, Thomas Tallis.

Along with many others who have been there I found the experience to be moving.  It was another simple reminder of the power of listening.

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