October 1, 2014

MUÑOZ | In One Ear, Out the Other

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By PAOLA MUÑOZ

Last week, I was navigating through the Facebook page Humans of New York. Currently, Brandon Stanton is in Mexico. One picture that really struck me from his visit to Mexico City is of a father carrying a broom, working diligently. The father told Brandon, “I gave my three-year-old daughter some worthless coins, and jokingly told her that she was rich. She went and hid the coins away, and I forgot all about them. Around the same time, my oldest daughter got a bunch of money from her aunts and uncles for her birthday. A few months later, we needed money for food, and I asked my oldest daughter if we could use some of her birthday money. She refused. I almost started crying, because I thought then that I had completely failed as a parent. But suddenly, my youngest daughter appeared, and gave me back the handful of coins that I had given her.” People are truly fascinated by the kind of people Brandon meets regularly, almost as if he’s cherry picking the best of the best. I was too, until one comment struck me:

“I read these stories and think, ‘Brandon meets such extraordinary people’ then I catch myself and realize that I’m meeting them everyday, too. He just LISTENS to them and I haven’t been.”

What do HONY fans, Emma Watson TIME articles, racism and Cornell EARS beginning trainers all have in common? Listening — or rather, the lack thereof (in varying degrees, of course). Brandon Stanton listens for a living, but not all of his fans do. We implicitly harm the people we intend to help, because sometimes, we like to hear ourselves talk. If you have ever questioned, “does rape culture really exist” or “does racism really still exist.” Spoiler alert: uh, yeah. You just haven’t been listening — really.

Cathy Young’s TIME article “Sorry, Emma Watson, but HeForShe Is Rotten for Men” invalidated the movement because, according to her, Watson did not extensively coverissues regarding the injustices perpetrated towards men. Except, Watson kind of actually did. She didn’t, however, list all issues with regards to the injustices acted upon women or men. If she had, the speech would have gone on for days. She assumed that her audience would hopefully get the point, because you know, that’s what happens when you listen.

When we truly listen, naturally we learn. Listening is not nodding and repeating phrases verbatim: that’s merely your brain and ears functioning properly. Listening is much more organic than that — much less systematic. It’s about digesting a rich wealth of information, the stories and identities inherent within us all. Stop yourself every once in a while and really listen to what you just said, the words coming out of your mouth. They probably don’t sound as eloquent as they did in the void of space that is your brain, five seconds ago.

At the beginning training of EARS, we are taught not to give advice. Ironic, no? More important than giving people your two cents, is offering people your two ears. You can’t tell someone how to live their life, but you can guide them into finding their own answers. We’re so busy listening to ourselves talk, we are unaware of the voices we have perpetually silenced.

We are inherently threatened by what we fear we can lose: our opinions. We feel absolutely entitled to them. Consequently, we end up trivializing anyone who is different — anyone who thinks contrary to you. Criticism is meant to deconstruct your current destructive mindset, in order to reconstruct an improved and more just one. It is your duty to be humbled by what is true; to evolve accordingly with the truth. Growth doesn’t come through sustaining our train of thoughts long enough to grace a crowd with our eloquent argument. A truly strong point will address the contrary, not verbatim, rather analytically and respectively. A truly strong person will be humbled by being wrong. They are the ones who grow.

I am guilty of this, but I’m working on it. I’m not afraid to lose my train of thought anymore if it means listening to people will build a new, more improved track.

More than anything, everyone’s narrative demands to be told. We should listen.

Paola Muñoz is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. She can be reached at pmm245@cornell.edu. Midas’ Crumbs appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

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