Listening is underrated. Vastly underrated. Most of the time, most of us, are so intent on speaking, so intent on getting our point across, so impatient for the moment to let loose, that we forget to listen. We are so distracted by our own voices that those of others don’t cut through. And yet, listening, for all its apparent passivity, for all its quietness and restraint, is an exceptionally powerful act.
It is a common impulse to respond to another’s story by calling up a similar story of one’s own. When someone tells us how they feel, we tend to react by concentrating on how that makes us feel. When we are asked a question, or told of a problem, we tend to assume it is up to us to provide a solution. Often, we are so busy reacting and feeling and telling our own stories that we completely forget to listen. The opportunity to attend to another, to hear their words and take on board what they have said completely passes us by.
A victim of violence has had their voice savagely silenced and disregarded. They have been made to feel their voice, their perspective doesn’t matter, doesn’t need to be taken into account. Their suffering is only possible because of this silencing, this disregard.
That is why, the most powerful thing we have to offer a victim of violence is often our willingness to listen. Being prepared to listen validates the victim’s right to speak and, in so doing, insists on their essential, inalienable and equal right to safety, security and dignity. Gently, compassionately and patiently creating a safe space for a victim/survivor’s voice to be heard is one of the most healing and restorative actions we can provide.
Where violence savages the social contract and destroys both faith in others and faith in oneself, compassionate, non-judgmental listening restores a belief in your own voice, its power and worth, and simultaneously rebuilds some trust in other human beings. Each time someone listens to a victim/survivor, gently extends an opportunity to talk on their terms, in their time, in their way, without condition and without censure, it is one further demonstration that the actions of the rapist were the exception and not the rule. That it was the rapist who was in the wrong, who disobeyed the social contract and destroyed the essential agreement that allows us all to live freely, safely and in harmony.
We must not underestimate the importance of listening. Each time we listen, each time we hear a victim/survivor’s testimony with compassion, we undo a little of the rapist’s damage. Each time we create a safe and supportive space for that testimony, each time we profess our willingness to listen and our capacity to do so compassionately and non-judgmentally, we make it a little bit harder for violence to occur. For listening to survivors, means respecting survivors and respecting survivors means respecting the right of each and everyone of us to live safely, free from violence and in dignity.