2018 was a difficult year for me.
My problems are relatively benign– family changes, elder care, consequential life decisions, and the like. They are common problems for many folks that I know, but I also know that my pain and sadness are valid. 2018 brought many hardships, there were a lot of tears, and difficult conversations. No one prepares you for the phone call from your grandmother when she says her assisted living facility is hell. Even though I know it isn’t, and I am confident in my family’s decision to help my grandparents make that transition, it’s still a tough conversation. However, I had the advantage of support. I am incredibly grateful to be supported by a crowd of wonderful friends and family. After that call with my grandmother, I immediately called my aunt and dad and talked through everything.
After my husband told me he was going to take an international trip and he didn’t know when he would come back, my family and friends supported me. After I decided that I should pursue a Ph.D., my coworkers cheered me on and wrote letters of support. These champions listened to me, made me feel loved, and gave me the space I needed to process and grow through my experiences. Having a group of friends and family that provide love and support is not a privilege experienced by everyone. I am proud of organizations, like Ampersand, that endeavor to help people be heard, validated, and given the space needed to heal.
There are many ways that people feel heard. Listening one on one is a skill that I have personally struggled with for a long time. I was raised by a family of teachers, and they love to talk. The best way to be heard at my childhood dinners was to start talking and not stop. I practice the RASA method, Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, and Ask. I force myself to actually listen and to stop thinking about a possible story that I might tell next. It has changed the way that I communicate. I’m not perfect at it, and it’s still a struggle with my family. At a family gathering this Christmas I started telling a story but was interrupted. I stopped and listened, but my Uncle noticed and commented “you can’t give up that easy.” Sometimes we need to listen, but sometimes we need to be heard.
There are many ways that people feel heard, and there are many other ways that help people feel empowered to speak up. This second step requires more than good listeners; it demands changes in systems. It demands that people notice when someone goes unheard. Ampersand certainly has good listeners, but as an organization, it takes the next step of either changing and creating systems that meet clients where they are and amplify their stories.
Sometimes this calls for practices in listening, like Trauma-Informed Yoga, individual counseling and Equine therapy. Sometimes this calls for practices in amplifying, like sending advocates to hospitals or to attend court with a client. Ampersand responds to individuals seeking support and care during incredibly traumatic events. This organization has incredible and compassionate listeners, but it also has amazing group of staff that refuse to accept the status quo. They will continue to advocate for and amplify the voices of those that have gone unheard. They demand that more people listen.
I was inspired to serve on Ampersand’s Board of Directors because I want to support organizations that listen to and then amplify stories. So often it seems that public conversations devolve into shouting matches about who holds the true truth. In reality, our individual experiences are true to us. Our stories are valid. Our pain is valid. We all deserve to be heard. I’m proud that Ampersand is listening.