Joining Better Networks, Part 2: Learn To Listen With Humility
This is the second chapter of an ongoing series of posts about how to become a welcomed member of productive networks. Humans are social animals, and always cluster into various groups. Unless you’re a hermit, you’re a member of various (sometimes overlapping) groups. These networks vary in size, purpose, and effectiveness.
Most African-American women need to find and join new, healthy networks in the global village. Because their current all-Black networks tend to be accidentally chosen, non-reciprocating, and often downright destructive. However, to join productive networks, most African-American women will need to change the way they approach networking. Most importantly, they will need to change their understanding of the entire process.
During Part 1, a reader named TertiaryAnna anticipated this chapter in the series when she said,
I think it’s also important to seem moldable. If a newbie looks like a potential protege, that can be more helpful than a newbie who is inflexible and can’t be taught. You don’t want to appear both inexperienced and unteachable.
This sums up the point of today’s chapter. To succeed, you have to be willing to take the initiative. But you also have to be willing to take direction at times. You have to be willing to listen with humility.
Part of the reason there is little mentoring among African-Americans is because most modern African-Americans make it clear that they are unteachable. People are not willing to be bothered with functioning as elders and mentors for most modern African-Americans because nobody can tell them anything. They’re too arrogant to listen, and it’s too much of a hassle to engage with them. On any level. Meanwhile, they whine about how nobody’s mentoring them or “passing the baton to them.”
Their modern attitude is contrary to traditional, “old school” African-American culture. Those African-Americans who are 40 or older are The Last Generation of African-Americans in so many ways. First, during our youth we weren’t passively waiting for somebody to pass a baton. If you became aware of something that needed to be dealt with, you simply started doing something about it. This is how many antiapartheid student organizations got started when I was in college. We didn’t wait for older activists to pass batons to us.
We followed up our initiative by actively seeking elders to consult with. We sought the advice of activist elders. And when activist elders told us something, we listened! We asked them (particularly those who were Black South Africans) what they felt were the most useful things we could do. And then we did the things they had suggested. This is another way that we are The Last Generation of African-Americans. We are the last generation who were raised to listen to people who were older than us. Not to automatically buy into whatever was said, but to listen and evaluate. We were raised to understand that folks who were several peer groups older than us had some life experiences that we could benefit from.
We also understood that since we were the ones benefiting from them choosing to share any information with us, it was on us to work to understand the message. They had no obligation to tell us anything, much less life-enhancing information. It certainly wasn’t their responsibility to sugarcoat or spoon-feed the life-enhancing information they shared with us. I was reminded of this during a recent exchange I had with a commenter,
Commenter: I think you are misinterpreting what I’m saying. By calling women’s choices foolish and since many women have already made such “foolish choices,” you disincentive people from listening to what you have to say.
Me: [Commenter], I like a dissenter with a sense of humor and grace! Thanks for stopping by! . . . First of all, common sense dictates that it’s on the person who needs help to listen, NOT on others to tailor life-saving and life-enhancing information to suit the foolish person’s fancy.
Keeping in mind the above common-sense observation of “who needs what from whom,” I’m not interested in begging fools to listen to common sense. That’s the 1st underlying premise that’s wrong. This notion that folks who need help (= folks who need or want something from others) should be begged to listen to literally life-saving and life-enhancing information. That’s crazy. NO! To paraphrase an old Jackson 5 song, the life they save by listening might be their own! I don’t care if they listen or not—it’s no skin off my nose if they choose to perish in the wilderness of voluntary ignorance.
The “take heed when a potential mentor person pulls your coat” mindset is long gone from most modern African-Americans. There are a handful of under-40 African-Americans that have “old school” values, but they’re not representative of their peers. Far too many African-Americans who are now in their 20s and 30s (and poorly raised by my generation and our older siblings, I will add):
(1) Somehow believe that other people are supposed to beg them to listen to common sense and experience; and tailor the common sense advice so it tickles the younger person’s ears.
(2) Get angry when you tell them anything.
(3) Somehow believe that their (structurally limited, by not having lived on the planet as long) limited life experience is the equal to that of any elder’s or potential mentor’s life experiences.
(4) They don’t listen; but yet they want elders to chase behind them and rescue them from the bad results of their choice not to listen.
Umm . . . no. The real world does not work like this. If you want to join better networks and secure helpful mentors, you have to listen with humility at times.
**ADDENDUM** Let me give a concrete example of what I mean. During the Spare The Rod And Destroy The Child post I repeatedly mentioned that I have never seen the “we don’t ever spank the children” parenting style succeed in raising decent children. I’m in my 40s and I’ve been actively paying attention to how relatives and others have been using various parenting styles for roughly the past 25 years. If you’re a “never spank children” believer who has only been alive for 25 years, that observation I mentioned should have raised some concerns for you.
Let me make it plain: I’ve been watching this “never spank the children” parenting style repeatedly fail for as long as some of you zealous “never spank the children” believers have been alive! I’m not saying that this observation by itself should change anybody’s mind. But it should have given some of the “never spank” believers who haven’t been on the planet as long a reason to step back for a minute. And think. But I noticed that not a single one of the 20-something, or even early 30s “never spank” believers gave that 25-year-long observation the weight or consideration that it deserved. That “as long as their entire lifetime” observation didn’t cause them to slow their roll for even a millisecond. They blew off that observation as if it had never been said. This kind of refusal to pause and listen for a moment is exactly what I’m talking about in this post.
That kind of behavior is not how I was raised. When somebody has been watching a particular phenomenon for as long as I’ve been alive, I listen. I don’t automatically believe or agree with them; but I do step back, sit down, and listen.