Editor’s Note: This article is written by Jennifer Vigne, president of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, and originally published by SRQ Magizine.
When parents and educators interact with youngsters in our charge, our default instinct is to be the teacher, to instruct them and show them the way. In truth, our children can teach us a lot. With unfettered passion, striking bravado and zealous tenacity, students are rallying for their voices to be heard in the wake of the recent tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The question is: Are we truly listening?
The very essence of being an effective communicator begins with listening. The importance of intentionally listening, being fully present and seeking to understand cannot be overstated. It is much easier to want others to understand us than it is to understand others, and our children are teaching us important lessons we should note.
Stephen Covey highlights one of the seven habits of highly effective people: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” With unifying strength, students are imploring us to be bastions of change and to heed the call of necessary action. It has been awe-inspiring to hear the voices of our children speak with such voluminous transparency and raw veracity, knowing that pats on the back will not suffice or deter them.
With increasing noise, our world often seems chaotic. Polarized conversations are alienating our country and leaving people feeling disenfranchised. Watching these students galvanize a horrific tragedy into productive change is remarkable and inspiring. We can learn a lot from them.
At the very least, we adults would do well to recognize the social-emotional skill of perspective taking. Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making, teaches us how this skill is developed over time. Through research conducted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it has been found that a special part of the brain’s cortex—where complex thinking takes place—lights up when people think about the thoughts of others. Cognitive flexibility helps us change the focus from self to others and using inhibitory control allows us to restrain our own thoughts for the benefit of understanding others.
Perspective taking is hard work that draws upon empathy and understanding. Now, more than ever before, we adults should be utilizing this skill. Our children have much to say. They will teach us what they need to know if we take the time to listen.
Winston Churchill said: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” It is time to for us to show the same level of courage as our children and really listen.