Listening from the heart
BGSU students revive the special art of listening
By Kathleen Lawry
Listening - It's harder than you think. In today's digital world, where people turn to faceless technology to communicate with others, the art of listening sometimes seems to be lost. But it's making a comeback on the BGSU campus and now, thanks to concerned students, at Toledo's Ronald McDonald House.
Throughout his career as a social worker, teacher and campus minister, Bill Thompson, adjunct instructor in the Human Development and Family Studies and director of the Common Good, has seen firsthand the value of having someone who will really listen. Thompson had long had a vision for a campus Listening Post - a site within a public setting where students could informally talk and have someone genuinely listen.
His vision became a reality when, during spring 2011, he partnered with Dr. Laura Landry Meyer, an associate professor of family and consumer sciences, to create an active-listening seminar that comprised a Listening Post at BGSU. After collaborating with several areas across campus, the BGSU Listening Post launched in fall 2011.
Once students in the seminar have learned active listening strategies, they complete service-learning hours at the Listening Post. Students spend three to eight hours a week at the post listening to their fellow students as well as administrators, faculty and staff.
To deepen their learning and listening skills, while maintaining the anonymity of their "clients," the students share their experiences in class, reflecting on what they are discovering and getting guidance from classmates, Landry Meyer and Thompson.
"The Listening Post is a place just for listening-not counseling, not advice giving," said Landry Meyer. "When you're listening to someone, you have to give them the gift of attention. You have to be non-judgmental. If they are talking to you and you're thinking about what you're going to say, you're not truly listening."
Admittedly, a number of students entered the class with the belief that listening is easy or that they personally were already good listeners, only to find out they were wrong. "Our textbook puts listening into a whole different perspective. When I first saw it, I thought, 'How hard can listening be when you go back and forth?' but there are so many different types of listening," Landry Meyer said.
"The Listening Post is a place just for listening-not counseling, not advice giving"When students learn the art of listening, the rewards are great for both talker and listener. The talker gains a sense of relief, and the listeners learn more about themselves while developing skills that will benefit them both personally and professionally.
"It's a relaxing feeling for the talkers to just be open," said Clarence "CJ" Jackson, a junior majoring in human development and family studies. "It's a gratifying feeling because when you help that person clear their mind of what's going on, you see them walk away open-minded and ready to go on with their day. Some people come and they're just 'done,' so to speak, and it's great that we can be that changing factor for people."
According to Landry Meyer, there has been a considerable increase in visitors since the service started two years ago. The post is also expanding its locations throughout campus and even to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Ohio.
CJ Jackson and fellow student listener Jamal Jackson visited the Ronald McDonald House during BGSU's MLK Jr. Day of Service Challenge. While interacting with the staff, they explained the Listening Post and realized the families at the house could benefit from receiving the gift of attention.
"The BGSU Listening Post has been a great service to our families at the Ronald McDonald House of Northwest Ohio," said Rachel Williams, director of program services. "Our guests are experiencing what is probably the most stressful time in their lives, and having the Listening Post students available to just listen is invaluable. This gives them an opportunity to be heard, instead of listening to medical advice and direction on their child's care as they do the majority of their days. We are very appreciative of the students for their time and service."
Students are also working with the facility's staff and volunteers to teach them about the art of listening - how to listen, the way to ask questions and how to respond without judging - to create open and positive dialogue. "When you let yourself open up and evaluate your situation with someone else, it's relaxing because you're no longer carrying around the burden of negativity," said CJ Jackson.
"These students are changed in ways I never thought would be possible""The Listening Post prides itself on creating a sense of community - both at the Ronald McDonald House and across campus. The students and I really feel strongly that this service that we're providing to the campus community is part of retention," said Landry Meyer. "We're really creating a sense of community with students, we're making them feel like they belong, that they're worthwhile."
The benefits of practicing true listening are real. "The lives of the students who are the listeners are truly, truly transformed," said Landry Meyer. "These students are changed in ways I never thought would be possible, and I've been teaching for 20 years in college. I never thought that this level of learning and community could ever be established so the students who are in the class gain more than they even anticipate."
To learn more about Listening Post and where you can find it on campus, visit the Facebook page.