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India = Listening

Written by Marie McNamara, 2017 India: Mind & Body. Photos by Program Leader Kelsey White

The silver lining in long layovers – time for reflection.

For me, India: Mind & Body was all about listening. It began with listening to myself; listening to my soul, my true intentions, and my passions. Being true to myself and seeking new perspectives that challenged me in a way that my life in San Diego simply could not. This engagement with listening evolved throughout the program, and listening to myself was only one component.

In India, I learned how to listen again. I learned what listening means, and how it can heal the soul. I learned what it means to truly listen to each other. I watched my peers courageously confide in each other. I watched them as they bravely allowed themselves to be vulnerable. They spoke from the heart and by allowing themselves to be heard they let go of fear and control.

Listening is so simple but so hard. Listening offers an intimate human-to-human connection that supersedes all other social and economical differences. To truly listen to another person is to console, to give solace, and to show compassion. Truly listening is to say, “If I were in your situation I would feel the same way.” To truly listen is to take on some of that person’s pain. This is why listening is hard and this is why it takes courage.

Listening to my senses really helped shape my cultural understanding of India. There was a lot to take in: the smells in the street, the sounds of honking and chaos, the poverty, the pollution, the people, and the rich history all around. All of these things told a story – not just one, but many. You cannot summarize an entire country of 1 billion people into a single story.

One thing about listening is it may uncover a lot of questions, but it does not necessarily bring all the answers. Finding answers to the things we hear and see takes time. Everyone hears and sees things differently, thus everything is taken from the perspective of the beholder. Uncovering the questions, though, can be extremely important, and is a great foundation for ethical dialogs and action.

Going to India definitely brought on a series of important questions. What is need? How do we perceive the needs of others? What does need mean in India, and how does this differ from what we perceive need to be in western society? How should India develop sustainably, and how will these actions affect the generations to come? Would a focus on cutting carbon emissions be detrimental to India’s poor? How does the caste system affect current cultural norms and behaviors?

How can Indian women bond in solidarity and receive the respect, dignity, and education they deserve? How do you connect the remnants of a rich, deeply spiritual past with modernization? How will government corruption affect continued growth? These were all important issues and cries that I heard while in India.

While I do not have all the answers to these issues, listening to the Indian people and to my surroundings gave me a newfound respect for them. These people let me, a foreigner, into their life for two weeks, and for that I have nothing but gratitude and respect. I have learned a great deal from them and listening to their stories has given me a new perspective. It has also given me a perception of privilege, including how racial privilege as a white backpacker will affect my cultural understanding as I continue to travel and grow as a global citizen.

Uncovering some of the truths about listening made me realize that listening is deeply tied to respect. Respect is such a simple word, but is so hard to execute. It means so many different things to so many different people. Respect brings on a new cultural awareness, for respect has many layers, and many of these are tied to cultural rituals and values that have been passed down through generations.

Respect is the core of ethical responsibility. To be respectful is to understand one’s true situational moral and ethical duty as a human.  The purest sign of respect is to listen. If we simply listen to each other, so many conflicts could be resolved. Ultimately, understanding respect can bring a global awareness that can help spur ethical discussions, social reform, and economical progression.

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