(Father Greg Boyle, Director of Homeboy Industries)

This summer, our volunteer staff is spending one hour each week exploring each of *cino’s ten core values in turn.  Last week, we talked about “experiential learning,” with reference to the article “The play deficit” by Peter Gray.  This week, in anticipation of summer lunches and Community Fun Nights beginning next week, we explored “compassionate listening,” which is also important to consider as we all get to know each other and prepare to give one another grace during a very busy season of activities.

There was no homework in advance this week, though Rob pointed out the relevance of the recent article on reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Instead, after reiterating the importance of inclusive conversation even as we explore *cino’s roots in the Christian tradition, we began with a quote from Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe:

It was the first time that ever George had sat down on equal terms at any white man’s table; and he sat down, at first, with some constraint, and awkwardness; but they all exhaled and went off like fog, in the genial morning rays of this simple overflowing kindness.
This indeed, was a home, — home, — a word that George had never yet known a meaning for; and a belief in God, and trust in His providence, began to encircle his heart, as, with a golden cloud of protection and confidence, dark, misanthropic, pining, atheistic doubts, and fierce despair, melted away before the light of a living Gospel, breathed in living faces, preached by a thousand unconscious acts of love and good-will, which, like the cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple, shall never lose their reward.

Next, we participated in an exercise to articulate our own interpretations of “compassionate listening.”  Without a cheat sheet to know what the “official” *cino statement is, the task was to write one to two sentences that elaborate on what compassionate listening has meant in our experience.  The group came up with such beautiful interpretations, I wanted to share them here:

  • Loving well by honoring the stories, struggles and suffering of those around us; hearing not just words but meaning.  Sharing in the experiences of good, bad and in-between of another in some mysterious way joins us together and removes “the other,” replacing it with “us.”Equalizing the plane between storyteller and story listener, being open to the story that each individual has to share.
  • We rely on our ears before our mouths, to discover what we share in suffering before daring a word of hope.
  • Listening deeply to the stories of our neighbors to step out of our own experience and into theirs.  Learning together with our neighbors how our stories are connected.  “We’re one, but we’re not the same.”
  • Take in the words of another person without judgment, giving them your full attention.  Respond when needed, but keep the conversation focused on their needs, not your own.
  • Compassionate listening is active and present. You should acknowledge your
    own privilege and let others tell their stories without interruptions, cast
    aspersions, or judgement. There is no such thing as a complete truth; even
    if you’re being as honest as you know how to be you can still tell a truth
    that I don’t recognize as truth. I can’t know your truth because I am not
    you and you cannot know my truth because you are not me.
  • Silence even when the companion is silent.
  • Sitting in the ashes alongside.
  • Attention without response planning.
  • Listening with a conscious ear to disregard social, mental, belief, and racial barriers.
  • Recognizing the crucial difference between a time for advice and a time for understanding.
  • Recognizing the protagonist of each life.
  • Giving one’s attention without expectation or agenda.
  • Creating space for empathy and understanding to grow within one’s own heart and mind.
  • Actively pursuing empathy and understanding.
  • Temporary submission of one’s voice to another’s.
  • Being present and still so one may become vulnerable to the words and stories of another; opening oneself up to the possibility of being changed by another’s words/stories.

It was fascinating to hear the intersections and complementary differences in our various interpretations — a concrete experience of why we need each other.  In the midst of the conversation, we looked at the actual wording included in the core values — “We seek humble kinship with those who are suffering” — and then watched a video of a talk by Father Greg Boyle, who has been a major influence on our notions of kinship (or friendship) as the basis for authentic relationship at the margins.

As both new interns and veteran volunteer staff members, it was wonderful to have this time of reflection as we head into the summer’s activities, imagining a circle of compassion, and then imagining that no one is standing outside of that circle.

Last modified: March 4, 2020