On Connecting To Strangers
The Sidewalk Talk Blog
The Heidelberg Sidewalk Talk listeners pulled up chairs in the freezing cold Monday night on an empty stretch of sidewalk and made it warm with connection. What if our communities were places of belonging? What problems could we solve in the world if this was our reality? Pictured are people from all over the world in this very diverse city speaking many different languages.
Are you responsible for Sidewalk Talk’s movement to create culture change one heart-centered conversation at a time?
You probably are and don’t even know it.
You are a Sidewalk Talk creator if you;
What do you feel inside when you let yourself really register how Sidewalk Talk is because of you?
Let that wash over you for a second.
Every little thing you choose to do to keep this Sidewalk Talk bus driving along the highway, banners out the windows, gas in the bus, is you raising your hand and saying “Look I see all the problems in the world and I know we can solve them if we can first connect."
"Everything I want to change in this world is possible from the starting point of heart-centered dialogue.”
If you have not yet become a part of the Sidewalk Talk awakening rippling across the world to wake up hearts to make us healthier, happier, and wiser, what would be different about your daily well being if you were fully on board?
How would it feel to say out loud to people you know “Yeah human connection is the thing that is going to save us. We cannot be healthy people, with a healthy planet, with healthy equality, and healthy politics unless we prioritize connection to each other no matter how different we are.”
Sidewalk Talk has very concrete impacts on the world.
Sidewalk Talk is in 92 locations across 15 countries - we have doubled in size since last year.
Our goal is to create more ease and joy for chapter leaders, a clear link to their impact, and more frequently listening everywhere. The big goal is to listen to 11,000 people a month around the globe. Can you imagine the ripple effects of that?
Here is what Sidewalk Talk does with money we earn:
1. First, all money goes to Social Good who are our bosses so they have to approve what we do with our money.
2. Money is making our impact 3x more efficient. In the old days we didn’t even have a website! Here is our stance on money.
3. Our mission of connection guides our growth. Intentional growth keeps us out of “harmful hustle” that leads to the disconnection problem in the first place. What is coming? A global and diverse advisory board is coming together to keep our heart focus and inclusion to all voices central and we are crafting a community voting system to influence direction. Everything we do with marketing messaging and partnering activities must have service rather than growth as its core ethic.
So if you are new to us, these are how we move through the world.
You are here because this is your mission. You have been called to it.
We invite you to stretch by asking others to join in.
For #GivingTuesday we need 100 monthly angel investors to get fully behind this mission with a monthly investment.
Maybe you are called to be that monthly angel investor. Or maybe you are called to go find those angels. You are making the world a better place.
Thank you for taking this stand to create connection, inclusion, belonging, and wellness in a divided and disconnected world.
A friend was telling me she was a big fan of a teacher who taught anger management. Then she began to volunteer for the organization and was surprised at how angry folks were inside the very organization hoping to dispel anger.
We chuckled together because we both knew that often we teach what we most need to learn. I started a listening project because I am a shitty listener and forget that I am a human being who needs other human beings. My nickname when I was in corporate life was “the machine” because I could get so much done in a day at great expense to my own well-being. So I bring a lot of humility to this work of listening and perhaps that willingness to be a beginner over and over makes me the best possible teacher. I know how hard it is to listen. As a result, I have reflected on what I have learned over the years and we have built a new organizational curriculum called HEAR.
Here is the rub...Sidewalk Talk is over 7000 volunteers and 92 chapter leaders and it is easy for my “people pleaser” “machine-like-self” to work around the clock to try to meet every person’s needs. I have certainly erred in that direction from time to time, that is for sure, but mostly I say no to a lot of pulls on my energy and time so I can stay a loving human. Some folks don't like boundaries - they feel mean but actually boundaries are a big part of connection. My heart’s desire is to walk the talk and all the volunteers who soar at Sidewalk Talk hold the same ethic to HEAR each other. Let me just say, some of the best humans I have ever met in my whole life, are inside this project.
Friday, in between psychotherapy sessions, I had an hour call booked with a volunteer who does design for us and our marketing person. I slowed down enough to say “Hey I am coming to this call with some high-intensity couples sessions so I am a little wobbly and feeling the pressure of our short time together to get a lot done. What are you bringing - good or bad?” Their answers about their lives, their kids, took all of four minutes but the remaining “worker-bee” conversation was filled with connection, joy, and creativity largely due to how we shared and listened at the start of our conversation. I still caught myself interrupting, feeling the crunch of time, and then I would come back, just like in any awareness practice, and remembered to HEAR these beautiful souls on this call with me.
Our successes and our failures to be big-hearted humans with each other led to the development of our new organizational training called HEAR that we bring to those of you who want to experience the magic of Sidewalk Talk. It is way more than training, it is a stance. When we all feel life-affirming connections at work we are more eager and engaged. Who doesn’t want that?
HEAR stands for Honor, Embody, Accept We Assume, and Respond.
Honor is a bow. We come to each conversation willing to see a person as having many parts. We bring reverence for their humanity in a very special, almost sacred way (certainly not a machine-like way). Everyone has great joys and great heartaches, no matter if they are a homeless vet or a wealthy CEO.
Embody is a word that was meaningless to me twenty years ago but is perhaps the MOST important part of my listening practice. I am not connecting with you with my judging brain but my whole being of feelings, sensations, and presence. When I am inside my own skin I also know when I need a break or need to set a limit.
Accept We Assume is a dozy for some. Here is the scoop...our brains are hard-wired to notice difference, have bias, and make assumptions. If we accept that our brains do this we can course correct. If we deny, we will continue to perpetuate disconnection and bias. “Oh look, I just assumed that person doesn’t speak English because of what they look like?” or “Oh look my boss just set a boundary with me which means they are a jerk?” Those are both assumptions. We have biases based on role, identity, religion, appearance, age, voice, and the list goes on. It is O.K. The thing to remember is don’t believe your assumptions. Open beyond them and the connection that awaits is magical.
Finally, responding is way more than repeating back what you heard. Responding is a facial, tonal, verbal and full-hearted intentional communication that says “I see you and I am with you.” There is no agenda to change this person’s state. What our initial research has shown is listeners feel just as great as the talkers. We all feel less alone in a heart-centered dialogue.
I hope you might consider taking up the practice of HEAR wherever you go. Taking the time to honor each other, embody our whole self, accept that assumptions will crop up to be dealt with and responding with intention in our listening allows us to make our organizations life-affirming rather depleting and humanizing, rather than dehumanizing. We need more of that in this world, now more than ever. Join in. I can vouch that since I started applying HEAR my whole world has become brighter.
If you are in Atlanta, GA, San Francisco, CA, New Jersey, Greater Los Angeles, the UK, and Western Europe, we have spots for 2 pro bono HEAR training's for organizations interested in trying our model out in each area. Training always includes bringing your team out to listen on the sidewalk. Complete this application here.