October 2016 Theme: Listen

October 5, 2016

Join us this 2016-2017 academic year, as we take time each month to reflect on a theme as a learning community. Hear from students in a personal reflection on the theme, as they consider how the concept applies to their life and work. See here for an overview of these themes, which will also be highlighted in each month's school e-newsletter.

The theme for our school community this October 2016 is "Listen." How do we take in the world around us? Sights, sounds, memories, stories...What do we choose to listen to?

Download (& save or print!) a PDF of this October 2016 Calendar

Student UrsZula Quintana has written this month's personal reflection--speaking from her life, family, and perspective. UrsZula is a student in the MA in Transformational Leadership program.


By: UrsZula Quintana

I had to learn how to speak English when I came to America from Poland. The words people spoke had no meaning to me, they were just patterns of sounds; I had no idea what someone was saying to me until I had the chance to learn the language and its meaning. A good definition of “listen” is to make meaning from sounds. Sounds have patterns, and we are taught to make meanings from these patterns. I remember listening very carefully to sounds of the American language so that I could mimic them, but the meaning of those sounds did not come until later.

Today I know some words and sounds have the same or multiple meanings. Also, I have managed to create meaningful conversation through the patterns of words I choose to speak. I remember the harsh tone of my grandmother’s voice as she spoke words I have not forgotten and reflect on every day: “Never speak words that will harm another, remain silent, bite your tongue if you have to, but never cause pain through your words.”

I wonder how language creates barriers in how we listen?

In this world of chaos, I must discern which sounds to listen to and which ones to ignore. I must make meaning out of the sounds I hear and process them through my own judgements and experiences. In a most unusually named class in the School of Theology & Ministry called Pastoral Care Skills, I had the opportunity to see and hear how I listen to and react to others by being video-recorded during conversations. These videos gave me the opportunity to explore the signs of a good listener and to look at myself and my listening patterns. In my first video I thought I did pretty well. I was inviting, helped ease tension, had good eye contact, my posture mirroring and open… oh wait this exercise was about listening. I was so focused on how to be a good listener that I didn’t hear a thing anybody said, I realized I was only listening to myself. This was the moment I realized that listening is not as easy as I had originally thought. Since taking that class, I have focused on becoming a good listener.

Listening is a leap of faith. It requires us to give up our perceptions and judgements so that we may accept fully the experiences and feelings of the person we listen to. This in turn allows for connection and learning to occur. What is my intention when I listen?  How do I let go and allow the other person to receive my undivided attention? What if they are boring? It wasn’t until I really let go of the chaos in my mind that a space was created where compassion and genuine interest for the other allowed active and reflective listening to occur.  I realized that I don’t have to have an answer. This is no easy task for me. It is amazing to see just how little I listen.

Another thought comes to mind as I reflect on being “listen” and that is the relation between listening and instruction. After reflecting, I wonder if I am a better listener when receiving instructions rather than when engaged in a conversation not instructing me to do something like reply with an answer. When I am told to do something and the conversation is action based, I find that I pay much better attention. I listen well and find it easy. Why is this? When the conversation is about the other person and I am just there to listen… what’s in it for me? What does this person want from me?

A turning point for me happened when I began to think about myself and how I would like others to listen to me, especially when I just want to vent how I feel about something. I realized I am not different. I equally want to be listened to and seek those who have good listening skills and those who will not judge me for the words I choose to speak. This began my connection to understand how you may want me to hear you and how you may want me to respond.

What signs do you look for in a good listener?

My favorite sounds to listen to are techno music, wind rustling through the trees, water in a small stream and children laughing. Sounds I don’t like include people yelling, sirens, and loud banging noises like guns and fireworks. Vacuum cleaners and fans tend to put me to sleep as I listen to their constant whirring. I listen to all these sounds whether on the news or in the forest or right here with you, they are all there for me to discern in my life today. The most difficult thing I have ever had to do is listen to silence…

What do you listen to and how do you listen?

I listen to chaos every day, so at times I just shut out the world and hear nothing because it is just too much for me to handle. The School of Theology and Ministry has opened a door for me through the practice of some mindfulness exercises which help me be in the moment, recognize and accept the moment and to just breathe and listen. Do you have a particular mindfulness exercise which helps you to listen?  

I am here and I will listen