On Connecting To Strangers
The Sidewalk Talk Blog
Healthline Media has a new series called "How Are You?" and Sidewalk Talk was lucky enough to be covered. Check out the beautiful documentary short and the wonderful host of "How Are You?", Omar Davis.
What an honor and a privilege. Sidewalk Talk is creating a mental health producing culture by making the connections that make us well a priority, all over the world.
On this particular day, we had, at one time, 22 listeners and 44 chairs on the sidewalk. It was also my last day listening in San Francisco before I moved to Heidelberg, Germany.
Watching this lit up my connection to Omar but more importantly, my love for my little family who I have listened with so many times. I miss you all. A LOT!
Last month, I was sitting on a sidewalk in Heidelberg, Germany. A man had been watching us for thirty minutes so a volunteer walked over and invited him to sit and talk.
I was privileged with getting to listen to him. Neither German, nor English, were his first language. And yet, we found our way together, cobbling together a mix of German and English.
Last month I also got to hear the leadership stories of Dr. Narendra Thagunna in Nepal and Patricia Maria Martins, in São Paulo, Brazil. We did not share a common language. Being a foreigner, learning a language, gave me a special kind of reverence for their courage to speak in their non-native language for our interview series and podcast.
Not judging non-native speakers is a shift inside me. As a teen, I had assumptions I made about people who did not speak the same language as me. "They are hard of hearing" or "they are not as smart." One of the great joys of aging and practicing listening at Sidewalk Talk is how my brain has changed and it quite naturally no longer makes that assumption or at least I notice assumptions I make about people really quickly, now.
How do we listen, if we do not share the same language?
I quite literally deploy all the ingredients of HEAR, our new organizational training protocol, here at Sidewalk Talk. H is for Honor. E is for Embody. A is for Accept we Assume and Assumptions Check, and R is for respond.
I come with a deep intention to HONOR this person as whole and deserving of love and respect just because they are human. This intention shapes my wonder and curiosity, my respect, and my ability to stay silently reverent. Part of showing honor to someone who speaks a different language is to invite a person to teach me the exact correct pronunciation of their name. To share with me some of the favorite words from their language or if they are struggling with a word in my native language, can they teach me that word in their language, and I practice saying it with them, as a show of honor and respect for their native tongue and as a way to be in resonance with them.
I stay inside my own skin and stay as present as possible, but I also pay attention to their body language so we can share an EMBODIED experience. Getting too analytic, intellectually can make a person feel like they are in a petri dish. Instead, I am a big ball of ME and they get to be a big ball of THEM and I notice them as a total self and they notice me as a total self.
3. Assumptions check
I have become deeply curious about my assumption making brain. I make assumptions about others, about myself, about the world, and it is now a natural habit to question virtually every assumption I make. ASSUMPTIONS CHECK and ACCEPTANCE that all brains make assumptions helps me not make that fateful assumption that a different language spoken means hard of hearing, not intelligent, or any other assumptions a person can make.
My RESPONSES incorporate Honor, Embodiment, and Assumptions Checking. I am not merely repeating what I have heard but responding to "who this person is". In the simplest of terms, I let my heart speak.
Back to my exchange with the man in Heidelberg. As the man sat, he began to shiver. I noticed his jacket was not warm. I found a blanket and covered him with it. He smiled. He shared the essence of what was true for him. In some moments I could not understand the message exactly, but I could see and feel in my body the general music and I stayed with him and leaned forward and shared what I was hearing in word and energy. He smiled again. Then he said, I was feeling alone before I sat down. Now I am not. And in a way, I heard him better than I could, if our conversation had been filled with words.
Today is International Volunteers Day and we have 7000 of those here at Sidewalk Talk.
Volunteers are a lively bunch because they are CHOOSING to turn up rather than beholden to turn up because of a wage.
The volunteers here at Sidewalk Talk are some of my favorite people, and many have become my closest friends. It is not uncommon for me to tear up talking to other volunteers about their experiences at Sidewalk Talk.
Here are my favorite things about Sidewalk Talk volunteers…
Whoa...these are really good people.
In a society that increasingly does not engage with a church or organized religion, my hope is Sidewalk Talk continues to grow in our community with each other and we have some hopes for more of that in 2020.
And, it turns out, volunteering is good for us. Check this research out from the Encyclopedia on Aging and Public Health.
“There are five reasons for benefits to [volunteering]: enhanced social integration; distraction from the agent's own problems; enhanced meaningfulness; increased perception of self‐efficacy and competence; and improved mood or more physically active lifestyle. Adult altruism (i.e., voluntary behavior that is “motivated by concern for the welfare of the other, rather than by anticipation of rewards”) has been associated with improved morale, self‐esteem, positive affect, and well‐being. The links between altruism and mental and physical health have been studied.” (Encyclopedia of Aging and Public Health)
Post S.G. (2008) Altruism and Volunteerism. In: Loue S.J., Sajatovic M. (eds) Encyclopedia of Aging and Public Health. Springer, Boston, MA
I am a woman, therapist, wife, mom, friend, listener, and founder/leader of Sidewalk Talk. You can subscribe to my couples therapy list here.