The Courage to Listen and Speak Out
An abusive relationship already indicates a painful failure to listen to the abused person’s experience, but when loved ones also do not hear the victims’ pain and distress, a double betrayal of trust occurs. This leads to even greater suffering.
Here are a few excerpts from the victim’s account which evoke this experience:
Because it wasn’t heard by those close to me,
the suffering turned against me, (…)
I withdrew inside,
trying to make myself invisible. (…)
I took on the other person’s actions,
carrying the guilt and shame like a ball chained to my ankle. (…)
I felt defenseless,
like I could never trust again. (…)
I would have needed to be listened to,
and welcomed in my distress, without being judged.
With utter clarity and simplicity, this account expresses the importance of being heard by caregivers and loved ones, and the need for the opportunity to own one’s voice and speak out.
In another text signed “Marie-Diane,” the same person writes about the process of speaking out:
To all the other “me too’s”
To those who said nothing
I hear your voices
Struggling to form words.
To all those who hide
In the shadows
I invite you to walk into the light
The light that will show you
That beneath this suffering
Hides your beauty
Fortunately, more and more organizations, institutions and governments are acknowledging this essential expression of truth, and are taking concrete actions to improve their capacity to listen, particularly for the benefit of women and vulnerable persons.
Listening to those who cry out for love
L’Arche’s very beginnings stem from this sort of listening, from hearing society’s buried cries of suffering. After visiting an institution for people with intellectual disabilities, Jean Vanier made the decision to welcome two of these people into his home. He responded to their call of distress.
Similarly, when he reflected on the cries and behaviours of certain core members, Vanier committed to listening to their stories and understanding how not being heard led them to call out in anguish.
This becomes even more true when the founder of L’Arche becomes a “spokesperson” for people with intellectual disabilities, initiating more and more conferences that proclaim their gifts far and wide across the planet. He thereby promotes and shares the fruits of this essential listening.
He dares to take on the public role of speaking out against prejudices, calling for us to do a better job listening to people who may be more vulnerable due to a physical or intellectual disability, or illness. He reminds us that these people play an indispensable role in building more human communities.
Working toward a culture that has listening built into its decision-making structures
Listening to the experience of persons who are bullied, vulnerable and marginalised is fundamental in both preventing and healing harm and abuse. The same quality of listening serves as a guarantee for healthy, united and lively communities, that are grounded in empathy.
History shows us that no political or organizational structure is spared from abuses of power or any other type of abuse. We need methods of listening to be solidly integrated into an organization’s culture and procedures in order to bypass the abuses of power that conventional hierarchical structures tend to perpetuate.
L’Arche Canada’s leadership and board of directors are aware of these challenges. Beyond renewing its commitment to all members, and restating its policies for the prevention of abuse and harassment, L’Arche Canada is carrying out a thorough reflection to ensure that listening is central to systems that prevent abusive behaviour.
L’Arche Canada is committed to building a strong culture of respect for each person and an organizational structure that promotes open and honest dialogue.