For my Religious Education class, we read two chapters from a book written by bell hooks titled Engaged Pedagogy. She is persistent and tenacious for a learning environment that promotes well-being for the mind, body, and spirit and she gives helpful examples and stories from her life’s experiences to make her points come to life in the reader’s imagination. One specific point that sticks with me is her push to nurture a learning environment in which all persons feel safe and responsible to share their voices. Doing so is difficult, however, because often times one’s voice may actually be silencing another person’s voice.
Why does this resonate with me?
I am living in that space. I have had numerous classes with a person who when speaking actually silences other people’s voices.
I can feel the fumes begin to smother my typically pleasant and positive thoughts. My palms start to sweat. I get that feeling in my gut. You know that feeling. It’s like my gut is physically churning and won’t stop until I release the tension that has built up so quickly.
What do I actually do?
Well, I definitely don’t slap anyone. But in all seriousness, I don’t do or say anything except let the fumes eventually settle, wipe the clamminess off on the side of my pants, and let my gut settle down. I don’t do or say anything because in responding to my colleague, I in turn might silence even more voices. Why add to the problem? So what is this “safe space” we idealistically dream of? Just because one person regards a space as safe doesn’t make that space equally safe for someone else.
What happens is someone speaks up and so eloquently, respectfully, and to-the-point transforms that awkward and frustrating moment for me (and others) to a valuable teaching point. In not doing or saying anything, I learn. I learn to become a better listener when I force myself into silence. But is it too far-fetched to think that we can still voice our opinions without silencing others? Is it too crazy to hope that we can eventually learn how to respectfully and genuinely speak to one another? Don’t think so. For now, however, I guess I’m going to keep learning how to be a better listener.