• Akila Venkatesh

HOW TO BE AN ALLY THROUGH MINDFUL LISTENING

Updated: Jul 14

the top listening blocks that we must be aware of in order to build solidarity and understanding between groups

(This blog post is the second of 9 weekly posts of the E.M.P.O.W.E.R.E.D. weekly summer challenge. It can be read on its own or alongside the summer empowerment guide and workbook)

If there was one foundational skill that I had to pick as the key to unlocking connection, understanding, allyship and solidarity, it would be mindful listening. Mindful listening is a necessity to peace and justice and if we want to cultivate this in our kids, we must practice it ourselves and be able to break down the concept to our kids as well. As I've mentioned before, we must explicitly teach foundational skills if we want to cultivate socially conscious children. It's an odd part of human behaviour that we spend so much time teaching math, science, reading, sports skills etc., but leave the development of the most important elements of our humanity to chance. Bringing intention to these foundational skills is part of 'parenting for peace and justice', or 'socially conscious parenting', and this is what In Good Hands is here to help with.

Mindful listening is a lifelong practice and there is so much that can be covered on this topic. There are loads of experts and organizations talking about mindfulness and meditation, and they may point to mindful listening as a natural subset of their teachings. However, few people are explicitly breaking down mindful listening in a way that can bring about awareness of its elements and subsequently how to translate this concept to our children. This is what I'll introduce here today. I will also be posting more about this topic in future blog posts (sign up to our email list so you can get notified when new posts come out).

Mindful listening: What is it?

Mindful listening is a process by which we slow down and pause, and become aware of our inner dialogue, as a means of becoming more open to dialogue from the outside. As we practice mindful listening, we become more attuned to our listening blocks, which we can then identify and release, in order to gain more clarity and understanding within ourselves, towards others, and to the outside world.

A technique to mindful listening: labelling and identifying our blocks

Here is a list of 15 blocks to listening (referenced at the end of this post). When you are listening to someone else speak, or listening to an idea through reading or watching something, stay mindful of the dialogue that may be blocking you from truly being present and open to understanding the other's point of view.

  1. Comparing: You cannot listen properly because you are making comparisons in your mind by comparing one person, idea, thing or concept, to another.

  2. Mind Reading: Instead of being present with what is being said, you are trying to figure out or decipher what the other person might really be thinking or feeling instead. You are busy trying to uncover hidden meanings behind the words.

  3. Rehearsing: You whole attention is on what you are going to stay next and crafting your response, instead of listening to what the other person is saying.

  4. Filtering: When you filter, you listen to only parts of what are being said, and those are usually only the things that you want to hear. You avoid truly hearing the other parts of the conversation.

  5. *Judging (or prejudging): If you are labelling someone else or have preconceived judgements or ideas about that person, group or topic, you are not able to have an open mind about what they are actually saying or experiencing.

  6. Dreaming: You are half-listening because you may be bored or anxious, or something that the other person said may trigger your own personal story.

  7. Relating: You take everything a person tells you and relate it back to your own experience. You may even launch into your own story before they can finish theirs. You may mistake this as being empathetic.

  8. Advising: You are the 'wise one', the 'problem solver' or just simply eager to give your advice and make everything right. You may not even let them finish before you make your suggestions.

  9. *Disagreeing: You focus on finding things to disagree with, perhaps because you don't want to give someone else credit.

  10. *Dismissing: You put-down, use sarcastic remarks, and don't validate what the other person is saying.

  11. *Discounting: You don't take what they say seriously, you minimize, and/or may even discount a compliment.

  12. *Defending: You defend your own position or a universal position (i.e., 'well, all lives matter'), instead of seeing things from their particular perspective. This one is the biggest block to being an ally and standing in solidarity with other groups! More on this in a separate blog post.

  13. *Being right: No matter what is being said, you just want to be right. You find it difficult to accept constructive feedback or criticism or hearing another perspective.

  14. Derailing: You change the subject and go off on tangents. Focus is challenging for you, or you get bored or uncomfortable with a topic.

  15. Appeasing: You just want to be nice and supportive. You placate and agree with everything just to make peace and make people like you. By doing this, you don't really get involved or seek to understand.

The blocks which are *, are what I feel are the biggest blocks to being an ally and standing in solidarity with other groups. Together, they are all a form of 'sparring'. Pay close attention to whether you are in sparring mode during a conversation or even when reading another's opinion. Defending and discounting show up when we say 'all lives matter', instead of really listening to why Black Lives need particular attention (are you in sparring mode reading this sentence?). I will get more into this topic in a dedicated post. For now, start by familiarizing yourself with the 15 blocks.


As socially conscious parents, we want to guide our children to be better listeners and I'm sure every parent (and teacher) regularly experiences the frustration of children not listening attentively to us when we are trying to guide them. However, it starts with us. If we are honest, we don't listen very well to other adults, and listening to our children is probably the biggest challenge. We may discount their opinions because we know better, or just want to hurry up and get to the answer for them. For this week's E.M.P.O.W.E.R.E.D. activity, pay closer to attention to your own blocks and work on them together with your child, and alongside them as an equal.

(The blocks to listening were adapted from a handout I received in a mindfulness course I took a couple years ago. The reference listed on the handout appears to be inactive, but it is: https://onmymind.areavoices.com/2011/11/05/the-12-blocks-to-listening/)


Please comment below and let me know: 1) what your top 1-3 blocks to listening are and 2) If you would like me to write a series of blog posts on mindful listening and allyship. In Good Hands is a new community and I would greatly appreciate hearing from you--it's the only way we can grow this community. Please comment below and let's get a dialogue going! Full disclosure as well--I'm new to setting up this site, and I couldn't remove the 'sign-in' option for comments, but I'm pretty sure you only have to sign in once for the site.


#blacklivesmatter #mindfulness #ally #solidarity #empowerment #consciousparenting #parenting #education #socialjustice #equity


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