Harvard administrators who like to say that there is a club for every interest at Harvard can take comfort with the decision by Beverly D. Boos, a student at the Harvard Extension School, to found the Listening Club, an organization that will train its members in listening skills. It will hold its first meeting at the end of January.
Boos said she hopes that the members will form a group of skilled listeners that will take trips into the community to listen to people's stories.
"For example, a visit to someone or a group that is polarized or disenfranchised, or to witness a story that is divisive," Boos said.
She said she hopes that members will listen "not necessarily to satisfy their own curiosity about something, but for the purpose of helping someone delve into their own story."
The ultimate goal, she wrote in an e-mail, is for listeners to postpone judgment on what a speaker is saying so that the speaker feels comfortable moving deeper into their own experience sharing it with the listeners.
Although many may think that listening comes naturally, Boos said she believes that it's a skill that can be taught. A good listener, according to Boos, must be able to listen and suspend judgment on a person's words, make a speaker feel comfortable, and know how to "return to presence" when necessary.
She wrote that listeners have a tendency to slip into "'clock time'—thinking about the past or future while the speaker is talking—or 'psychological time'—falling asleep or getting angry, sad, or confused while [the speaker is] talking."
Boos came up with the idea for the club last November. Since then she has been recruiting undergraduates, graduates, and faculty to attend the club's first meeting later this month.
Boos said she became experienced with listening techniques while working as a photographer in Israel and Palestine, traveling to both countries with a delegation from the Compassionate Listening Project, a group that aims to catalyze peacemaking by listening to both sides of a conflict.
The members of the group listened to the stories of people from both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and she took pictures of the people they met.
Harriet M. Richards, a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who has expressed interest in the club, worked as a school counselor for seven years and said that she witnessed the benefits of good listening skills first hand.
"Listening is an important skill that often isn't fostered among people," Richards said. "It's a skill that needs to be cultivated and usually isn't."
During the meeting, Boos wrote in an e-mail, members will work to develop their listening skills and "begin to align ourselves as a 'group' of listeners."
Boos hopes that the club will attract people from a number of different fields of study so that the club will be able to consider how listening can be applied in a variety of contexts.
Boos said that she had already recruited about ten members, but the club has yet to be recognized by the University.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons