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Dumbo had it going on

The MC was someone I knew well so when he introduced me by saying I have really big ears, I didn’t take offence.

The MC was someone I knew well so when he introduced me by saying I have really big ears, I didn’t take offence. Had he been talking about the physical size of my auditory organs I might have objected to the description, but he quickly added it was because I was seen as someone who was a listener.

The characterization was one I appreciated, even valued, because the nature of my job at that time was such that being an effective listener was essential. So to be described as having big ears was a good thing. I hope the same can be said of all of us today because we are going to need large lobes as we face what needs to be confronted in our province and nation.

The first time I recall encountering racism was as a Grade 4 student when a girl named Mei joined our all-Caucasian classroom. Her family had moved to our city from Asia and although some were eager to meet and welcome her to our school, jokes and slurs were made at her expense regularly.

We were young kids but I can still remember the sick feeling I got in my stomach when she was laughed at or excluded. A few of us did the only thing we knew how to do: invite her to hang out and get to know her.

Over time we learned a bit about her and her background. It wasn't easy. We didn't share a language in common at first, but somehow we made it work. So why is it then, that when we have shared language at our disposable, too often we stay silent, or we wield that language as a destructive weapon rather than a conciliatory tool?

On Canada Day I had the privilege of watching Terrance Littletent and a group of drummers perform a hoop dance. But it was so much more than a performance. Littletent took the opportunity to share the history behind what he does; explaining that everything is held within the hoop, and each movement contains a depth of meaning.

I have seen hoop dancers many times in the past but I have never left with such an understanding of what I was seeing. He also shared the five life lessons he was taught as a child; ones that he now teaches in return. Lesson number one: we need to listen.

A Canadian composer and scholar named R. Murray Schafer is acknowledged as the founder of acoustic ecology. He sought to draw attention to the sound environment and its impact on us. His work in the 1960s and 1970s led to the establishment of the World Soundscape Project which involved an analysis of soundscapes in Canada and around the world. In honor of his work, July 18 (Schafer's birthday) has been named World Listening Day to get us to think about what our ears take in every day. The day is to encourage us to set time aside and simply…listen.

Imagine a day where we talked less and listened more. A day in which we stayed silent and took time to hear from those around us. Imagine how much better we would understand each other if we made a commitment to hearing the stories others need to tell.

It is said that 85 per cent of what we learn we do so through listening. That's huge. So let's keep listening. Listening to those from different races and cultures. Listening to those whose life experiences are different from our own. Listening to those who are asking simply to be heard.

Being an effective listener means refraining from judgements. It requires putting aside what we think we know and holding onto our thoughts until we hear what the other person is saying. Think about what that could do toward battling injustice, discrimination, racism and bigotry. So much could be better understood if we used one of the most powerful tools at our disposal—listening.

Yes, it is easier to inflame than inform but it doesn’t get us anywhere. And while it might feel good to unleash, we know it’s far more constructive to educate.  There are many committed to doing just that, so when we encounter people such as Mei, Terrance and everyone else who has something to contribute, let’s do the best thing possible in response: listen.

While having outsized features might not be considered the most attractive, it could be that having really big ears is what makes us truly beautiful. That’s my outlook.