6.4 - Developing our Emotional Capacity - Reducing ego, Listening to the Radical

6.4 — Developing our Emotional Capacity – Reducing Ego, Listening to the Radical – (60 minutes)

Materials needed: Police Abolition Script, Barriers to Listening handout, Listening Notes handout, small group question sheets, pens and pencils, and copies of reference articles (as desired)

Purpose of piece: To practice listening in the face of challenging material. To recognize the value in radical proposals intended to serve racial justice.

Say to group: Engaging in racial justice work means expanding our worldviews beyond our currently held assumptions and beliefs. Not only is this required as part of breaking free from the norms put in place through a history of white supremacy, advocating for positions that activists propose will likely take us beyond our political comfort zones. The activity is not meant to judge anyone’s politics or be a measure of your commitment to racial justice. Instead, it presents a proposal that has been put forward by some activists concerned about mass incarceration and police violence, a proposal that will likely seem radical to many. The challenge before the group is to hone our listening skills so that we can find value in ideas that might be beyond our immediate resonance. Doing this is part of navigating the tension between being true to our inner voice while also being accountable to racial justice principles. (Introduction – 5 minutes)

Say to group: The first thing we need to do is consider what it means to listen. This handout on Barriers to Listening offers a handy list of things we can try to avoid. What stands out is how busy many of our minds are while we try to listen. Even if we think we’re listening attentively, it is common for our minds to be thinking, making judgements, and having an entire inner dialogue. This inner dialogue is also linked to our emotions. When we are being asked to accept something that we do not agree with or find unworkable, this can pose an even greater challenge.

And yet, confronting internalized racism and a worldview filled with assumptions means that we must learn how to reduce judgmental internal speech and replace it with a sense of curiosity that can deepen our listening.

To do this, let’s brainstorm two different kinds of internal speech we can experience when we are challenged by something that does not fit with our worldview. (Review sheet and brainstorm – 10 minutes)


Internal speech based in judgment Internal speech based in curiosity
Are they serious? What makes them so confident about this?
That’s not even slightly realistic. Why is this so important to them?

Facilitator’s Note: Some of the ideas you hope to draw out are the following:

  • Quick judgments shut down our ability to listen.
  • The willingness to accept that we don’t know everything allows us to truly listen.
  • Curiosity generates questions that open the mind.
  • Using “both/and” thinking can help us avoid holding onto our worldview too tightly.

Say to group: I am now going to read aloud from a script about the movement to abolish police. It is divided into three parts. At the end of each section, you’ll have a couple of minutes to use the Listening Notes handout to track your thoughts and feelings or any notes about what internal dialogue might be going on while you listen. Do your best to retain an open, beginner’s mind that generates curiosity. (Oral reading and section reflections – 20 minutes)

Facilitator’s Note: This activity will be more powerful if the facilitator delivers the presentation materials orally. The script and other resource materials can be distributed, if desired. However, reading it silently (or along with the facilitator’s narration) is unlikely to create the same impact.

Final silent reflection: (2-3 minutes)

Take a few minutes to reflect on your overall experience listening to the script. What feelings are most present? What internal speech did you experience?

Pair share: (10 minutes)

  1. What happened for you internally (thoughts and feelings) while you listened to the presentation?
  2. What helped you stay open at certain moments? What caused you to shut down?
  3. What can you say “yes” to within the proposal? What is valid, valuable, or worthy of consideration?

Large group discussion (15 minutes)

  1. How could “both/and” thinking help us explain this position to people who think it’s unreasonable?
  2. What are some strategies to increase our curiosity and reduce judgement?
  3. How can this help us deepen our relationships with others?

Facilitator’s Note: Depending on the group and the discussion that takes place, you might find it useful to use a quote from the book to highlight the challenges that arise when we speak too quickly, before we fully understand a situation.

“A little bit of knowledge can be very dangerous. My contribution to that workshop did not advance the conversation. It unfortunately reflected a mixture of relative ignorance and ego. What I learned from this situation is that acting as an ally often means sufficiently analyzing a topic before contributing, understanding the objectives of a particular meeting or dialogue to ensure that a contribution is supportive and useful, and reflecting on one’s motives for speaking up or taking action.” (pp. 182-183)

Wrap up: No matter how invested we are in racial justice, we will find ourselves challenged by perspectives that stretch our belief system or worldview. In order to act accountably, we need to develop our listening skills so that we can overcome our own internal resistance and approach such moments with curiosity and an intention to locate the value in the person’s perspective. This is a technique we can use moving forward with any topic that pushes us out of our comfort zone.