Listen Both Ways before You Cross the Street
Categories: Adolescent health care, Wellness Centers
September 10, 2015 — By Christian Beauvoir
Overeager and under equipped, I came into neighborhoods ready to “fix them.” I planned to leave with the politics mended, the sidewalks newly paved, the streets clean, and the people thriving, safe, and conscious. I believed that as long as my intentions were pure, my results would be positive and justified. I also thought that I had all the answers. However, I have come to understand that just because I have some tools doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing. I am not Bob the Builder. Let’s be honest, Bob the Builder is a true American icon, and his catchphrase, “Can we fix it, yes we can!” resonates in all of our hearts. What separates me from this lovable handyman is that while he deals with broken chairs and windows, I work with real people. People require partnership. They require a give and take. I fell into a trap that many do in our line of work. I saw people as aggregates of historical disenfranchisement, access to quality health care, or rates of incarceration rather than human beings. I would talk about alluring pictures of broken communities pieced together like beautiful stained glass windows, and while this is an attractive metaphor, I still made people inanimate and my imagery removed their agency. I have since come to understand that a community with issues is not broken or powerless. Struggle makes you nothing less than resilient. While I would love to be a champion for others, just because I have a hammer does not mean I should be banging in nails.
I was very ready to bang in nails. However, this work has taught me to be much more critical of myself. I had a colleague tell me this, “The greatest harm can be done by people with the purest intentions. So stop and think, ‘Why am I doing this? Should it be done? What are the consequences? Who is it impacting? Am I the one that should be doing it?’” I genuinely felt, that as long as my intention was to help, that was good enough. However, I have overlooked issues because I was not educated enough to fully understand the potential impacts. Possibly more problematic was that I thought my college diploma prioritized my knowledge over the experiential wisdom of others. This egotism prevented me from making real impacts. It took many repetitions of mentors frankly telling me to “shut up and listen,” before I understood this point.
Now, I am learning to listen both ways before I cross the street and not let preconceived notions limit my vision. No one knows the issues of the community, or what works and what doesn’t, better than the people in it. Attentively listening constantly saves me from trying to reinvent the wheel. Besides, someone probably already did the thing I thought was revolutionary. Asking questions and recognizing the expertise of others establishes trust and creates greater buy-in from the community. Openly hearing disrupts stereotypes. Listening purposefully has restructured my perspectives on power, giving it back to the communities, and has helped me to understand that I was not saving anyone, but merely acting as an aid. My role is to humbly disburse tools for others to build up themselves and their communities. My edges are still rough and unrefined, but I have grown, and maybe 30 years down the road I will understand what it means to be a servant leader.
Christian Beauvoir is a recent graduate of Stanford University where he pursued race and gender equity while earning a B.A. in Urban Studies with a focus in Urban Education. In the future, he plans to actively focus on the well-being and empowerment of young people through identity development and the installation of culturally-competent educational practices within Los Angeles area schools. This summer, Christian is working as The L.A. Trust’s student engagement intern, enhancing a series of resources for our Adult Allies, as well as, aiding in the development and growth of Student Advisory Boards at the fourteen Wellness Centers.