Our inboxes—perhaps like yours—have been flooded with election-related emails in the last month. There have been requests for money (and more requests, and more requests), pleas for volunteers, and updates on polls and strategy. As we headed into election week, however, there came a change. Many of the messages were now on how to cope with the election and its results. One such email, from Ian Solomon, the dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, was addressed to the UVA community primarily, but also offered wisdom for a wider audience. Writing for the university’s “On Words” series, Solomon reflected on the word “leadership” and how good leadership can heal.
He included these thoughts:
We will no doubt have those who cheer the election’s outcome and others who mourn. But I believe we have neither the luxury of celebrating nor surrendering, because there is too much work to be done. As we roll up our sleeves and get to work, here are some ways we can practice leadership that heals.
First, we can be more effective listeners. Listening has become too rare. Because it is hard, it needs to be practiced. It is a skill that improves with effort and intention. All of us can learn to react less to messages that make us uncomfortable. We can also learn to hear the emotions, needs and motivations behind a person’s words to enable deeper empathy and understanding. Rather than assume that “they” have no interest in listening to “us,” start by finding one individual and letting that person speak their truth. Be present and hear one another.
Two things coming out of this. First, there is enormous work to do. It is doubtful that your church board needs to be convinced of that—the needs of the world, the city or town, your neighborhood, are as obvious as the most recent unemployment roster and food insecurity statistics.
But second, in doing that work, we need to practice listening.
You wept in your mother’s arms
and I knew that from then on
I was to forget myself.
Listening to your sobs,
I was resolved against my will
to do well by us
and so I said, without thinking,
in great panic, To do wrong
in one’s own judgment,
though others thrive by it,
is the right road to blessedness.
Not to submit to error
is in itself wrong
Standing beside you,
I took an oath
to make your life simpler
by complicating mine
and what I always thought
would happen did:
I was lifted up in joy.
How does the practice of listening to his child cry affect Ignatow? What does he say, do, think, resolve, experience, in response—and why?
Can you recount times in which the practice of listening has affected you deeply?
What cries are you listening to right now? What cries is your church board listening to?
How might your church board actively practice listening in the coming weeks?
What scriptures can help you and your board to practice listening in the midst of the work you now need to do?
For a reflection on Luke 18 and Jesus as a master practitioner of listening, check out this conversation between the Rev. Amy Starr Redwine, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Richmond, and your humble co-author Elizabeth Lynn.