Listening is a Different Matter: Social Entrepreneurship and The Bodhisattva
Visiting a lecture at Portland State University’s School of Business, one might not expect to spend the time sitting in silence or learning about contemplative listening. But when Impact Entrepreneurs brought Dr. Klein from Rice University to visit last week, the combination made sense. Klein teaches the importance of developing awareness that encompasses cultural as well as personal insights and explores the drive to alleviate suffering.
Anne Carolyn Klein (Rigzin Drolma) is a professor of Religious Studies at Rice University and has been a student of Buddhist thought for more than 30 years. Awards for her work range from translation grants to contemplative studies awards, and she has published six books in her field. Throughout her talk at PSU last week there was a distinct sense that she practices what she teaches.
Klein’s theme for the talk was listening. By listening to one’s self, and listening to others, Klein proposed that we could better understand the problems we address and the people experiencing those problems. I expect the lesson we had on listening in the 1.5 hours Klein was at PSU could be a lifetime of study, but the 101 from last week looked like this:
Listening is a different matter
1) The act of listening involves retaining what one hears. If the listener is not retaining what they hear, they will not be able to capture the needs of those experiencing a challenge.
2) To listen is to be receptive. Receptivity is reflected in your body language as well as in your responsiveness. “If you’re not interested,” Klein said, “get interested.”
3) Listen without preconceptions. Listening with an expectation of what you are going to hear will interfere with your capacity to understand what is really going on.
Through Klein’s extensive experience and study, she has found that the process of making change and the action of solving problems benefits as much from listening to one’s self as listening to others, and to demonstrate, she led the group through a brief guided mediation. This simple practice, Klein proposed, can contribute to an awareness of one’s own insights (see #3 on the list above) and broader, cultural insights. This is what she calls “embodied awareness” and strengthens one’s ability to practice “real listening.”
In addition to real listening, the drive to alleviate suffering is at the root of Klein’s work and is a central principle of social innovation. In Tibetan Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is someone motivated by pure compassion, whose goal is to achieve the highest level of being in order to help others. In some definitions, the social entrepreneur has similar qualities. For example, in Ashoka Founder Bill Drayton’s description, social entrepreneurs are often “possessed by their ideas, committing their lives to changing the direction of their field.”
Klein’s work brings history and context to the field of social innovation, and presents a challenge to all changemakers to listen, really.
To learn more about Klein’s work, see her page from Rice University here.
By Abby Chroman
Consultant with PSU Impact Entrepreneurs and Ashoka