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Friday, November 30, 2007

The Art of Listening

One of the responsibilities that accompany being a city commissioner for the City of Madison involves reviewing requests for funding and contributing to a voting process which determines if an applying agency is granted all or part of the funding they request. With any grant application, there is a need to identify a problem and articulate a solution that is associated with a dollar amount. As a group, we determine if the agency’s proposal is a viable and sound response to a valid issue, and if the majority is in agreement, the funding moves forward.

One aspect of this process that strikes me is how many agencies develop solutions without incorporating the contributions of the communities affected by the issue. Individuals affected by social ailments are not incapable of contributing or producing a solution.

I seem to have a slightly different prospective because in addition to being on two city commissions, I also work for an agency and serve on a board that responds to needs within the community that I live in. Through all this, I interact with a lot of agencies and a lot of providers, and overall, I have often witnessed people being told what their problem is and then subsequently being told what their solution is. As a resident of Allied Drive, I have often been told what to do to solve my problems. Go to the food pantry or fill out these forms for some other kind of assistance. As one resident, I am saying that is not the long-term solution. No one seems to ask me what I want. Partly because it is assumed that they already know.

You ever see the kung-fu movies where in the midst of a fight scene, two fighters jump kick at each other, but completely miss one another? That is the problem and solution here. As I see it, many community and government agencies, and many people, often fail to listen. When we are in a position of power and responsible for providing solutions, we often forget that we have a responsibility to listen. Really listen. Listen with the purpose of learning and understanding without any preconceived thoughts that you already know what is going on. What you may learn is that the real problem is not what you thought and therefore, the solution was not what you envisioned. This applies to all the leaders in Madison. There are never any waivers to listening and understanding. In other words, just because you are of the same race as those you are trying to serve, or speak the same language, or just because you know someone’s mother, or just because you have known the person since they were a child, does not automatically mean that you fully understand each other.

There are a lot of people out here that want to contribute to better lives for all residents. There are also a lot of people here who want better lives. I don’t know exactly what the path looks like to get there, however I know there can not be just one voice guiding all of us which way to go. Please listen, and allow everyone to have a voice in our efforts to move forward.

This column was originally published in Madison Voices, Allied Drive's community newspaper. Visit their Web site at: