If I am Not Heard, I am Not Seen

Ecclesial Leaders Listening to Understand

We at ConSpirita Consulting Network are committed to improving leadership, especially ecclesial leadership.  These times of a global pandemic and a global awakening about racism cry out for courageous and humble leaders.  This series of blogs invite you to come along with us as we humbly, courageously and consistently undertake the work of self-education about racism in the United States, in the Catholic Church and in our own white, privileged lives. 

I’ve taken a bit of a vacation for the last two weeks…it’s hard to focus on the kind of learning and unlearning these times call for when there’s a three-year old to be played with and an 83 year old to be cared for.  But I’m back home from Florida carrying out my duty to self-quarantine for 14 days, so I’ve time again to turn to what I think is THE task of this time for those of us who enjoy white privilege:  self-education that leads to empathy, and eventually empathy that leads to transformation.

Today I listened to a podcast where Dr. Brené Brown talked with Tarana Burke (founder of the #MeToo movement) around “Being Seen and Heard.”  I also participated in a webinar on “Engaging in Dialogue with our Multicultural Catholic Communities about Race, Faith and Culture.”  While the speakers in each event do not know one another, nor do they come at the issue of racism from the same place, they both said that these times require that all people, but especially leaders, must enter into a time of listening to the stories of the oppressed.  Tarana Burke made this point:  if you do not hear me, you do not see me.  What does that mean for Roman Catholic leaders?  It means having the courage to seek out the stories of those who have been oppressed by systems and structures, including the Euro-centric Church… and then to listen.

Listen.  What is entailed in that for leaders?  Here are some insights from both the podcast and the webinar that can help prepare all of us for the kind of listening that can lead to transformation.

  1. Listen to understand the story/experience from the speakers’ viewpoint. Do not push their story through your lenses. 
  2. Listen not just to the words, but to the feelings the words, gestures, tone, volume and pitch are trying to convey. Listen with your heart to what these experiences have left behind in the lives, minds, hearts and spirits of the tellers.
  3. Listen with humility. Your experience, education and position must be set aside.  Open yourself to discomfort and stay in the moment with your discomfort.  Do not let the FIG complex derail your listening.  (FIG stands for Fear, Ignorance or Guilt.)  Stay present in their story.
  4. Listen not to fix anything or to excuse yourself.  Listen to understand with your head and heart…to connect to the image of God in each person, and to their perspectives.  Listen with empathy.
  5. Listen to your own discomfort. What is God revealing to you?  What transformation is God offering?  What does God want of you on this journey toward becoming an anti-racist?

“If I am not heard, I am not seen.”  In the face of that reality, what do ecclesial leaders do in order to make sure the people of God hear the stories of oppression, fear, rage, anxiety, hopelessness and survivorship?  The stories of resilience, triumph, exhaustion, panic, resignation and grit?  Where are the spaces for those stories to be shared?  Is the church/Church called in these times to be a safe, sacred place where people ready to listen can do so in the company of others, listening to learn?  I hope so.


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As I write this, it’s just under a month until the first phase of the Church’s Synod on the process of synodality is to begin.