Drawn to Deep Listening

Of all the delightful devices in the Harry Potter series of books, the Pensieve intrigues me the most. It first appears in the fourth book, Goblet of Fire. Entering Dumbledore’s office one day, Harry witnesses him holding a wand to this head as he leans over a large stone bowl.  Dumbledore explains: “I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind…. At these times… I use the Pensieve.  One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure.”

IMG_1171A visit last Thursday to ‘drawn,’ an exhibit at the University of Cincinnati, brought the Pensieve to mind. Created in response to the shooting of Sam DuBose by UC officer Ray Tensing, the exhibit is intended as an “interactive space opened for the university as a blank canvas.” Although the glass-walled Meyers Gallery opens right off the pedestrian Main Street of campus, crossing the threshold marks entry into a place apart. There’s a hushed feeling, like a church, that is calming. Black surface covers the walls like the chalkboards of my grade school classrooms, with sticks of white chalk ready to hand for visitors to write their thoughts. A range of views and ideas were already recorded, from scripture verses to laments of “not again” to statements like “disarm the police.” Hanging above, black and white vinyl banners list headlines about the shooting from local, national and international news outlets. All the surrounding words carry raw emotion, yet it’s as if the Pensieve has siphoned them out, clearing the mind and making it possible simply to be present with the feelings and ideas underlying the words.

A circle of chairs at the center invites face to face interaction in the space, which I look forward to experiencing on my next visit! On Thursday at 12:30 pm I will lead a conversation following the Red Boot Coalition model. This event is open to all. Like the exhibit format, it will invite participants to voice their own experiences and feelings and deeply listen to others’. The Red Boot process creates safe space for genuine interaction, to get beyond labels and stereotypes. IMG_1172There are 11 Red Boot steps and each meeting focuses on a single one. We’ll discuss Step 2:  We came to see that despite sometimes feeling small and powerless, we possess the power to positively influence all those with whom we come into contact, which on any given day can be literally hundreds of people. We are empowered. 

This seemingly simple approach produces profound effects. I think of it as adding compost to the garden, improving the soil before planting. Red Boot meetings ready hearts and minds to engage in more fruitful conversations on challenging social and political issues. They can be one-time events, like this one at UC, or ongoing gatherings such as the weekly Red Boot meetings held at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center  from 7:30 to 8:30 am on Thursdays.

The Red Boot movement was launched in 2014 by Molly Barker, who also founded Girls on the Run. After serving on the Commission for Political Reform, a group tasked with identifying ways to encourage more civil discourse in national government, Molly was not fully satisfied with the results of their work and ventured off on her own to explore the roots of the “us vs them” mentality, embarking on a cross country drive in August of last year. She talked to hundreds of people about this dynamic and upon her return realized that the encounters on the trip had been the sort of open dialogue missing in many of our communities. Several weeks later she wrote the Red Boot 11 Steps and accompanying meeting script based on these experiences.  In October 2014 Molly led the first-ever Red Boot meeting in her hometown of Charlotte, and besides Cincinnati, others have begun in IL, MI, MN, MO and AZ.

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