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Amy's 1st Post

Rosalyn's entry and reviewing the list of questions for reflection have made me think some about the power of listening without thinking about what I will say next (i.e. listening without interrupting or commenting on what others are saying). Although learning circles are not the only setting where I have experienced the type of listening without interrupting that is asked for in a learning circle, I always find it powerful. On the listening side, it makes it possible for me to turn off my constant urge to interact with what people are saying or experiencing and just let them share until they are done. This was especially challenging for me when I first began taking part in learning circles because it is one of the ways I find I try to relate to people - to show them I can understand what they are saying or where they are coming from. However, as I have become adjusted to this style, I also find it freeing - that it makes me a much better listener than I might be otherwise.

As a speaker in a learning circle setting, I find that even though I know no one is going to comment, or respond to what I am saying, that I still look for some kind of feedback from others in the circle. Not so much to know if people agree with what I am saying as to be sure that I haven't gone on too long - that I am still holding people's attention and that there is still interest in what I am saying. This is a challenge for me and sometimes I think it makes me ramble instead of finding what is most important in my story. It also challenges me because I like to hear what people think of things - and not just anything, things I am also thinking about. So, I find I get really frustrated when there's not enough time for cross-talk in a learning circle.

Also in these two weeks, reading the Long Haul and comparing it to my weekly experiences in learning circles at Jane Addams has made me ask how we can ensure that there is real space for people to really speak what is on their heart - the things in the world that we each believe must change. The history of Highlander as told in the Long Haul makes it sound like the place was filled with that energy, all the time. I find that this happens at JAS, but of course not every time. I wonder in how we retell history if a place like Highlander or other citizenship schools in the south during the Civil Rights movement have been romanticized? Much like my reaction to stories of literacy classes in the movie last time we met, I wonder if the day-to-day of Highlander was always as inspiring as it is told in the history books. Literacy classes are not glamorous, and neither is every night at JAS - was there something that inspirational always happening at Highlander? Is there something that inspirational happening there everyday now? Although when the story of JAS is told - both now and in the future as history, it will sound like a powerful place, if you only visit for one night it is quite possible you might not see or feel anything that at all resembles the stories of the place. I find power in the relationships that develop by sitting in a talking circle with the same people every week - and I think power is built through those relationships - but it is not always a take-my-breath-away experience as I think we may imagine Highlander to have been.

While I have followed the work of Highlander over the years, reading the Long Haul renewed my commitment to finding a way to be more involved in the work of Highlander today. I am especially interested in the Interpreting for Social Justice workshops they offer. I have spent a number of years now interpreting in social justice settings but always feel there is so much that is politicized in acting as a language and cultural bridge that it would be good for me to think about in a systematic way. More information is here: www.highlandercenter.org/p-multilingual.asp

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Comments

Amy,

Thank you for your posting. I resonate with asking “how we can ensure that there is real space for people to really speak what is on their heart – the things in the world that we each believe must change.?

Your idea that Highlander’s story has been romanticized seems very perceptive. I wish that I knew more of the stories of people who attended Highlander and didn’t find it useful, or the kinds of conflicts and difficulties that staff had with each other, and the growing pains and failures along the way as they experimented and grew—not to diminish the successes, but to become more aware of the realities of the difficulty of this work. I appreciate your perspective on JAS—that the power is forged in relationships built over time, but a lot of those moments are not breathtaking or transformative; yet, in the long run, there will be those memories, too.

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