empathy

Do you know how to listen?

I attended a free listening workshop here in Ithaca in 2011 that was really amazing. I went after I’d already been in Ithaca’s Talking Circles on Race and Racism — which are so wonderful, but so dependent on good communication. I really think I could have been a better listener (and a better white ally) if I’d attended the Listening Workshop before the Talking Circles!

The main idea is that usually, people aren’t really, truly listening to each other. They’re kind of waiting so they can speak. For instance, when someone says something about oppression, the other person isn’t necessarily listening with an open heart, ready to hear every painful detail — they’re usually going through a whole list of automatic, unhelpful responses (agreeing or disagreeing, questioning, giving advice, problem solving, thinking of a similar experience, coming up with reasons or explanations, etc. — there’s a list on our refrigerator!). The result is that we don’t actually hear what the other is saying. It takes awareness and practice to move away from these automatic responses, but I’ve got to say that it is well worth the effort. It really changed the way I communicate with people, for the better.

Think about what widespread adoption of this approach to communication could do for our world. Learning to be better listeners can only help our struggles for social and environmental justice. When someone speaks of their experience of racism or classism or heterosexism or sexism or any other oppression, it may stir up memories of things you read, or movies you saw, but that doesn’t mean that those are fit responses; the other is talking about their life, and now is not the time for anecdotes about movies, but for listening. Likewise, it might be painful to hear how we harm animals by not being vegan, but shouldn’t we at least listen to the voices of those we’re harming (via their proxies and spokespeople, those humans who can speak in words we can understand, who seem to have animals’ interests in mind)?

If you’re an activist, my guess is you’d like to be listened to. We have to be the change we want to see, so we need to work on our own listening.

Anyway, I can’t recommend these programs highly enough — and there happens to be a Listening Workshop SATURDAY, April 13th, 9am-12:30pm (they ask folks to please be 5 minutes early).

It will be held at the Ithaca Community Childcare Center (IC3), which is a really cool building at 579 Warren Road Ithaca, NY 14850 between the medical campus and Boces on Warren Road. Please bring snacks/beverages, and register at: www.thelisteningworkshop.com. It is 100% free.

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Happy birthday César Chávez

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Happy birthday to the late, great César Chávez: a labor rights and environmental justice activist, and a vegan. He said,

I became a vegetarian after realizing that animals feel afraid, cold, hungry and unhappy like we do. I feel very deeply about vegetarianism and the animal kingdom. It was my dog Boycott who led me to question the right of humans to eat other sentient beings.

A sad but touching video showing the depth of animal emotions

Sorry to share something so sad, but it’s also quite beautiful. This video captures a moment when a sight-seeing boat from Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari in Dana Point, California crossed paths with what seemed to be a funeral procession: A grieving mother dolphin, slowly carrying her dead child’s body on her dorsal fin, surrounded by other dolphins.

In the video, Tony Green, one of the passengers, says,

The last thing I expected to see today was a funeral procession. And it was pretty profound for me to think about … emotions that those animals feel. And how much, really, more alike we are…

I’m so glad this video exists. If you ever doubt that animals have feelings or consciousness, remember this funeral procession. If you ever worry that humans are heartless, remember the natural empathy and grief felt by the unseen human observers in this video.

Captain Dave Anderson says, “In my nearly twenty years on the water whale watching I have never seen this behavior,” but my guess is that this is nothing new. We just have to look and learn. Just for starters, When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson is full of amazing stories as well as useful perspective into why we humans hear so little about anecdotal evidence of animal cognition.

Via Huffington Post.

“Who is smarter: a person or an ape?”

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“New research shows that we have grossly underestimated both the scope and the scale of animal intelligence. Primatologist Frans de Waal on memory-champ chimps, tool-using elephants and rats capable of empathy.”

Via Josh

Photo: Thomas Cheng and a dog, from the article