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Listening and Seeing in New Ways

Emily Kingsley's picture

A number of the readings for this week inspired me to do some self-reflection on how I might begin to see, hear, and understand the objects/living things around me in ways that are more open, more creative, and less norm-driven. In the article “Sometimes We Need to Get Uncomfortable,” this line stood out to me:

“I think what we came away with was the idea that just the act of listening was a radical act in and of itself, because these are folks who aren’t asked to tell personal stories”  --Sonneborn

 I am captivated by this idea of listening as a radical act. It struck me as particularly powerful when I read it because I had just come from a workshop at which we discussed the Quaker-inspired practice of “holding” someone else’s story with unconditional love and acceptance. This principle seems similar to the kind of radical listening that Sonneborn is talking about here. Questioning and reshaping our definition of what it means to truly listen can help us build more authentic, more accessible relationships, regardless of whether disability is an explicit part of the equation or not.

 Reading Riva Lehrer’s work helped me to challenge my conception of what it means to perceive/judge beauty in others. Through Lehrer’s writing, I began to recognize how beauty does not have to be a one-diminesional judgment or label placed on someone else by the viewer. Instead, "informed beauty" comes out of a relationship; it is something that “we bestow on each other” (Lehrer 3). Conceptualizing beauty in this way is beneficial because it returns a level of agency to the subject of the gaze. Since Lehrer defines the perception of beauty as “inviting [the subject] into a shared illusion” with the viewer, she leaves room for the subject to reject this invitation if they so choose (3).

 Finally, reading Lehrer’s thoughts on beauty as a construct and a concept reminded me of my midterm project on smartness. There are a number of parallels between the value systems of beauty and smartness: Both have been used to (de)value/rank people against each another, both appear to have some kind of evolutionary/biological significance (though exactly what that is or what that means is up for debate), both have strong ties to racism and white supremacy. Recognizing these common threads makes me wonder about what should be ‘done’ with these value systems. In my project, I pushed to get rid of the conception of smartness altogether. Lehrer, on the other hand, proposes a way to reclaim and redefine beauty so that it is more productive and less oppressive. This led me to wonder: Could smartness be reimagined in a similar way? I am not sure what the answer to this is, but it certainly seems like putting the potent ranking systems of beauty and smartness into conversation would be a generative next step.