I’m going Christmas shopping today. On my list are a variety of gifts including Ferrero Rochers, a suitcase, a kettle, posh pants and a onesie. Obvs also a brace of scented candles. I can’t wait to see the faces of the recipients when they open them. These are things I know they want because I’ve been listening out all year for small references to coveted items (admittedly nobody ever mentioned the candles but who can resist the subtle aromas of pomegranate and cardamom????).
But there’s one gift I want to give everyone this year, even people I won’t ever play charades with or offer a dish of sprouts to, because it’s something we all need, even if we don’t realise. It’s not edible or wearable or watchable or audible.
It’s the gift of listening.
There’s much to be gloomy about in the world at the moment but what saddens me more than anything is the tendency, in public and in private, to shout at and silence people we disagree with; to attack and intimidate those whose opinions we find offensive; to become, ironically, oppressors (when often the original objective was to defend or protect the persecuted). I fear where this is leading us.
The famous quote from poet Heinrich Heine should give us pause for thought – “Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings”.
But here’s a dose of festive cheer and optimism in the form of the extraordinary Daryl Davis. An acclaimed musician, author and lecturer, he’s spent 40 years listening to his ‘enemies’ – the Ku Klux Klan in order to explore, as Daryl himself puts it:
“Why do you hate me when you know nothing about me?”
In this brilliant interview (an accompaniment to your present wrapping?), he explains how he seeks to understand others’ beliefs, pain, perspectives, however distasteful they may be, because open dialogue, even between conflicting groups, leads to more understanding and education, and helps to neutralise hate.
Tangible proof of that – the white hoods and robes given to him by former KKK members when they reject the klan and its ideology!
I hope you find his story and his standpoint as inspirational as I do, and that his example might encourage us all, whether at work or at home, to embrace and celebrate this most precious of gifts.
Happy listening and happy Christmas