Listening to Ourselves

“Overwhelmed” “Frazzled” “Tired” “Sleepy” “Stressed”

My peers shared these words at a community building circle I kept this week. As they said each word, I realized how much I was feeling the same way. Sitting at my desk in the same chair for almost the entire day trying to fulfill my responsibilities in classes, organizations, and to my friends, all through the confines of a zoom square.

I heard myself telling the participants, “We are here to create a space to allow ourselves to talk about our authentic experiences to build community. If you can only bring 50% of yourself to the session today, recognize that. That is okay too. Try to create the space in your mind to truly listen.” As I went down the script of the circle, I felt myself understanding on a profound level how much I needed to hear those words as well. I realized leading restorative justice practices at Duke is sometimes a selfish endeavor for me. It gives me a chance to check-in with myself and remind myself of the practices I hope to apply in my life at Duke and beyond.

The most important thing that I need to remind myself everyday is to listen – the keystone principle of all restorative practices. In restorative justice, listening means laughing, frowning, nodding, and smiling as community members share glimpses into their lives. It means empathizing and being willing to invest emotional energy into the space you have co-created. It means accepting some degree of vulnerability to receive warmth and human connection in return. Listening means offering your full presence and listening to understand rather than to respond. Sometimes at Duke it feels like classes, networking sessions, and many social activities are competitions to determine who can respond the fastest and most eloquently. In RJ, we hope for the exact opposite. Sometimes, passing in a circle is more meaningful than speaking.

The practice of listening is harder than ever in a semester overwhelmed by back-to-back classes, limited social activities, and a level of uncertainty. But when you create the space to do it, listening creates a sense of peace and allows you to step out of your body and mind to practice empathy. Listening in circles at Duke has made me feel less alone and isolated, and more comfortable in recognizing and holding my discomforts and insecurities.

One friend in the community texted me after the circle “What a rare gem today was, I feel calmer.” After almost every circle I keep, I feel the same way. THIS is the power that restorative practices hold.  Feeling like a student isn’t easy during the pandemic. So we need to listen to each other and more importantly listen to ourselves.

4 Ways to Get Closer from Far Away

how to hug someone through the internetHere we are facing a global pandemic–and mostly alone. 

In my two weeks of social distancing, I found myself feeling disconnected. Technically able, yet somehow socially unable, to find the warmth of community. Now even a “hi” wave to acquaintances from an appropriate social distance is a small but fulfilling interaction that I long for. 

As much as I treasure meme humor and the political and economic news of the moment, I want to bring back the laughter of shared memories, the depth of intellectual conversation, the delicacy of vulnerable revelations, and mutual connection over mutual emotions that was an everyday part of my Duke experience. So, I ask myself: how can we have a community when we are apart? 

I look to the restorative community building framework for answers. Restorative practices invite empathy, active listening, and sharing lived experiences. It helps groups and individuals to organically move past shallow conversation and towards authentic and meaningful connections. 

So, here are the guidelines that help me the most to create community with virtual meet-ups:   

  1. Commit to Listening – You can’t look people in the eye over video chat to convey that you care and are listening. And insta is just a click away and no one can really tell – can they? By giving your full attention and demonstrating that by nodding and expressing care through your facial expressions, you can make sure that your friends feel heard. 
  2. Mind the interruptions – Talking online makes it hard to judge who is going to talk next. And people who are eager to speak might jump into a sentence only halfway complete. By being aware of interruptions, you can listen to understand, not to speak. Maybe ask everyone to respond to one question in turn. And speaking of questions…   
  3. Ask specific but open-ended questions – This approach invites deeper conversation, instead of staying at the surface. (Friend: “What did you do today?” Me: “… the same five things I told you I did yesterday.”) Instead ask, “How are you really?” “What made you laugh this week?” “What’s been hardest about being home again?” ‘What do you miss most?”
  4. Start with “I” – Starting with your experience prevents invalidating how someone else might be feeling and invites others to share. Blanket statements such as  “social distancing is so depressing” creates a claim that speaks for everyone, but “I feel sad and disconnected while social distancing” allows for your friend to acknowledge and validate your experience and continue the conversation. 

I hope these ideas help you get back to late night giggles, deeper conversations and emotional support that bring you closer to friends when everyone and everything seems far away.