Listening Days on Climate Change
Uninterrupted listening is the basis of peer support and the National Institute for Peer Support Model. One way to apply this model is events offering one-way listening to the public on a specific issue.
One of the biggest challenges facing the climate change movement is the paradox that people do not always respond to more information, no matter how compelling. Indeed, several studies show that those who do not believe in human-caused climate change, believe in it EVEN LESS after getting more new information supporting the reality of this threat. Dissonance Theory some say.
By contrast, we know from decades of experience in peer support that HUMANS WILL OFTEN CHANGE OUR OPINIONS—IF WE ARE LISTENED TO NON-JUDGEMMENTALLY AND WITHOUT INTERRUPTION.
Since the early 1980’s, activists concerned with a variety of issues have conducted “listening” events.
Saturday, September 24th was Moving Planet, an international day of actions sponsored by 350.org, the World Council of Churches, OXFAM and many other organizations (www.MovingPlanet.org.) During the week leading up to Moving Planet, NIPS organizedy “Listening Days” across the country. The major newspaper in Southern Arizona covered the Tucson pilot project with a front-page story and a picture (available on our Media page under About.) This was the first step in applying the power of listening as developed in NIPS peer support to the still-broad popular resistance to understanding and action on climate change.
Our goal is to encourage a large number of people to explore their beliefs about climate change without the threat of contradiction, ridicule or even disagreement. We believe that human beings are fundamentally good and given time will come to a reasonable position on this (and every other) issue and commit themselves to effective actions.
Here is how it works:
Recruit a partner. It is not a good idea to do this alone. Take the time to practice the following guidelines in a session with your partner.
Pick a reasonably public place where you will have contact with many people. Sidewalks are generally open to the public, although shopping malls are available for this purpose.
Set up a sign (handmade is fine) saying: “What do you think about CLIMATE CHANGE? I am interested in listening.”
Wait for people to come up to you and start talking. If necessary, go up and introduce yourself.
The purpose of these one-way, “listening turns” is to give the other person a chance to be listened to. If the person asks questions, be honest, but brief. This is absolutely NOT the time to express your own opinions about climate change, especially if the other person’s opinions differ wildly from your own.
Therefore, if the other person asks what you think about climate change, simply shift the attention back to the speaker by saying. “I would rather hear what you have to say” or some such. If they
All you have to do is pay attention to the speaker. There is no need for some of the advanced techniques taught in various classes: summarizing, paraphrasing, empathizing, etc. Just be quiet, and try to keep eye contact with the speaker. Occasionally nodding your head or saying “uh-huh” may help.
Often when people are listened to without interruptions, they will express strong feelings. You may have seen the TV ad where they put a couch on the sidewalk and offered to listen to people. They often cried. They will probably laugh a lot. They might tremble a little. They may express irritation.
These are all good things and indicate that the person is really reviewing their position on this subject. You do not have to intervene to stop any of these natural, physiological processes.
About the only thing you have to worry about is your own safety, which is part of the reason we suggest doing this in pairs. If anything feels unsafe, just excuse yourself and walk away with your partner. If anything dangerous seems likely, just dial 911 as you would in any situation.
Both of these are very unlikely.
The second reason for your partner is to listen to you after you have listened to somebody who has led to some emotional reaction on your part. Take the time to debrief so you can really listen to the next person.
Ideally, you would both take turns listening. You listen to somebody and your partner listens to the two of you. After that conversation ends, your partner is the listener and you listen to that conversation.
There is no set limit for these conversations other than your own ability to pay attention. When you feel yourself tiring or your attention drifting, thank the person and explain that you need to take a break. Using the need to go to the toilet is a tried and true alternative when the other person won’t stop talking!
If the person you are listening to expresses similar opinions to yours and wants to get involved, you can take their name and phone number and get back to them. It is okay to have some small fliers in your pocket for a local Moving Planet event or for the Moving Planet website. However, this can distract from the willingness of people in general to talk with you if they think you are just doing this for that purpose.
Indeed, we are more interested in people who do NOT agree with us!
Please contact NIPS for training in this method and support for your project. We definitely want to hear from you after the project since we are convinced that this approach could be key to dealing with the climate change issue.
However, you should understand that you have decided to undertake this action on your own and release NIPS from any responsibility for anything that might go wrong.