Leading by Listening

Carter Webb: I pride myself on being this great listener, but whenever I meet somebody new, I find I’m doing all the talking.

Sarah Hardwicke: Maybe you’re not a great listener.

Carter Webb: Hmm?

Sarah Hardwicke: Maybe you’re not such a great listener.

Carter Webb: No that’s not it, I’m a great listener.


“In the Land of Women” script by Jon Kasdan


In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr. famously and compellingly makes the case for nonviolent direct action against injustice to an audience that claims to be sympathetic to the goals of his movement but worried about the discomfort and tension his methods may create. King argues that the purpose of nonviolent direct action is to force attention to an issue that a community seeks to ignore. King further argues that “constructive nonviolent tension” is not something to be feared but is actually “necessary for growth.”1

I have been struck recently in sessions learning from Grace School of Applied Diplomacy Practitioner in Residence Rafael Tyszblat by the emphasis placed on deep listening. This includes paying attention to emotions. Tyszblat is insistent that conflict will necessarily involve emotions and that attempting to suppress or ignore those emotions is not helpful. Listening to those expressions of emotion by others and paying close attention to our own emotions is essential to constructive engagement amid conflict. Those emotions, while they may contribute to tension, if fully engaged rather than suppressed or ignored can teach us a great deal. Tyszblat argues that we are afraid of emotions because of fears they can lead to violence or other great harms, but in fact most often that escalation proceeds from suppressing or ignoring emotions, not from acknowledging and engaging them. Listening is not always easy but may be most important at times when it is most difficult.

A commitment to listening to and hearing others is central to the Vincentian worldview to which we are committed at DePaul. Vincent included meekness or gentleness as one of the primary virtues necessary to those who lived out the Mission.  Vincent’s understanding suggests that honoring the dignity of all leads as much to listening to others as preaching to them, to serving others as much as directing them. We have seen attempts to live out this commitment in recent times through processes of listening and gaining wisdom such as the crafting of the revised Mission statement,2 the Synodal process in the Catholic Church,3 and Designing DePaul.4

Many people feel that they are not truly seen or heard. Our initial response to a reminder about the importance of listening may be “Yes, people should definitely do a better job of listening to me.” People who have been marginalized or ignored in the past may hear calls for them to listen as calls to continue that marginalization. The primary responsibility for fostering a culture of listening must be on those who have power and privilege in any space.

We may see a call directed towards leaders, and think, “Yes, they really need to do better.” That is likely valid, yet everyone in the University community has some kind of privilege, certainly compared to the population of the world. Of course, some enjoy much more than others. The Prophet Muhammad in a famous tradition taught that “Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for their flock.”5 We all have spaces where we are in charge, where we are responsible, as a teacher in the classroom or perhaps supervising a student worker. Let us continue to search for ways that we can lead by listening in those spaces, by doing our best to truly hear the experiences, the concerns, and the wisdom of others.

Questions for Reflection:

  • What are essential tools or techniques to being a better listener? What can get in the way of listening to others or make it difficult for us?
  • In our political life, many people express a feeling that their concerns and wishes are not listened to, yet many people also rarely participate in opportunities like public meetings or voting. Sometimes at DePaul there can also be a lot of processes meant to foster listening, but people do not always find participating in them possible or worthwhile. Why do you think that is? What are barriers to meaningful participation? Are there times when lack of participation reflects satisfaction, comfort, or trust in decision makers? Are there creative ways to “listen” to people outside of formal processes in which they may be reluctant to engage?

Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan


1 https://www.csuchico.edu/iege/_assets/documents/susi-letter-from-birmingham-jail.pdf

2 https://resources.depaul.edu/newsline/sections/campus-and-community/Pages/Mission-Statement-review-process-moves-forward.aspx

3 https://resources.depaul.edu/newsline/sections/campus-and-community/Pages/Synodal-gatherings.aspx

4 https://www.designing.depaul.edu/

5 https://www.abuaminaelias.com/dailyhadithonline/2011/07/03/shepherd-flock/


Studying and Learning: To What End?

“We have to study in such a way that love corresponds to knowledge.” St. Vincent de Paul (CCD 11:116)

What do you understand to be the ultimate end goal of your lifelong learning, growth, and improvement? What are your underlying motivations as you pursue further knowledge, expertise, and success? By connecting love to the pursuit of knowledge, Vincent’s words invite us to consider how our efforts to learn and improve can serve a greater purpose beyond our own personal advancement. How might a desire to love others influence the way you learn or work? How might your learning and your work enrich the human communities to which you belong?


Conference 98, Repetition of Prayer, October 1643, CCD, 11:116

Knit with Meaning: Crafting for a Cause


Katie Sullivan is the University Minister for Catholic Social Concerns in Catholic Campus Ministry.

In the last few years, I’ve found myself doing a lot of knitting. Some of this knitting is definitely because a lot of people I know are having babies – friends, siblings, co-workers, you name it. Some of this knitting is because I simply enjoy it or want to make something special for a loved one. And some of it is because of Crafting for a Cause, our CCM program for students who want to knit or crochet things to donate to those in need and build community with each other as they knit.

In the process of doing all this knitting, I’ve discovered that when I knit, I keep the person I’m knitting for in my consciousness and hope that the love I’m feeling for them goes into the item. In this way, knitting is now a spiritual practice for me. Knitting with intention, as I try to do, has become prayer.

During the 2013 summer months, one knitting project in particular took on extra special meaning for me – a blanket I was making for my older sister, Keary.   She had been diagnosed with breast cancer earlier that summer, and I had decided to make her a blanket she could take with her to chemotherapy.

This blanket felt extra special; it was a big blanket and required a lot of yarn and every time I worked on it, I thought of Keary and put my heart into the project, essentially praying for her health and recovery. Yet, it somehow seemed to have more mistakes than usual in it.

When I gave it to her, and apologized for the many mistakes, she smiled and said, “Don’t you remember what Mrs. Samson [our former teacher who taught us both to knit] said about mistakes? They’re your love.”

I hadn’t remembered that little nugget of wisdom from the woman who had taught me to knit but hearing it made me happy because it felt so true. I had been thinking of any mistakes in my knitting as my signature (thanks to a friend for sharing that piece of wisdom with me). Now, though, I think I’ll look at any mistakes and see them as both love and a signature.

In a very special way, knitting, for me, has become prayer in its own unique way. What are some things that you do that have become spiritual practice?

Do you want to try knitting as a spiritual practice now? If so, please join our Crafting for a Cause group on Fridays at 11am in the CCM office (Suite 104 of the Lincoln Park Student Center).

What George Clooney Taught Me About the Importance of Education

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What does a mediocre rental movie have to do with existential questions of humanity and the value of higher education?  Probably very little, but I will let you peek into the firing of my synapses which found a connection.

It was a free night with no plans so my wife and I rented a movie from the box in the drug store.   After some discussion we choose The Monuments Men. The movie follows the ‘based on a true story’ tale of a group of art scholars tasked with preserving masterpieces during the throes of World War II. The mission is carried out while the Nazis are seeking to seize masterpieces from the countries being militarily conquered. Worse still, because of the war paintings, sculpture, and architecturally important buildings could be destroyed either due to the fighting and bombing or intentionally due to the Nazis’ desire to eradicate a people’s culture from the earth.

The movie focused on some key questions for us as people. How can we reconcile the spending of resources on preserving works of art (no matter how beautiful) with the fact that resources are in short supply and in high demand for other needs? How can we spend lives saving art rather than defeating the enemy? More importantly, what is it we are actually fighting for? What do we truly value?

These questions make me think of current debates regarding the value of higher education.   What is higher education’s purpose or need when, in a changing job market, a college education is not necessarily required and is certainly not a guarantee of employment?

If higher education is reduced to being a hoop one needs to jump through to get a lucrative job, I will concede pursuing it may not make sense. It is however more than that. Though it may help one get a job (and well it should), higher education is about education — learning, imparting wisdom, and helping one discern vocation. Perhaps most importantly, higher education is about discovering the contributions a person will make with their one precious life.

The process of education is about making sense of life and our world; it is not so our job market can ask us what sense higher education makes.   If education was all about how to get high-paying jobs (which are not bad and can be quite good) and that is all we focused on, our societal response to positions of care and compassion for our sick, elderly, and vulnerable would be very small. Human services would not be a field, nor would most liberal arts studies. History would be lost to time, and we would gain nothing from the accomplishments of those who have gone before us. The greatest accomplishments in thought and philosophy would go unlearned and unexamined. If it is all about high paying jobs, we may well be excellent producers of products, but we may never have learned how to think.

I recently watched the eyes of a large Mexican family – all of them, from oldest to youngest, men and women – fill with tears as they looked on with pride as their loved one (daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, great niece, cousin) donned a DePaul cap and gown, becoming the first in their family to graduate from college. She will be going into a helping profession.

If higher ed is primarily about money this scene does not make sense, but if education is about more than that – striving to achieve, learning, living dreams, discovering passions, extending one’s understanding of community – the very things that make us human, then I think we have answered what the value of higher education is.

The movie The Monuments Men makes a compelling argument that we were not simply fighting to save people nor only to stop an imperialist power. We were fighting to preserve cultures, people’s histories, and greatest accomplishments. It makes the point that we value difference, beauty, and expression as humans. It also makes the point that we are willing to do what is necessary to preserve these elements for future generations. We do this so that those who come after us will be inspired to learn about their culture, learn about where they come from, and learn about the very essence of what makes them who they are.

Presumably this is also why we continue to offer and place value upon higher education. Without education present in our society we risk becoming a culture of task completers, valued chiefly by our capacity to produce. With learning present in our society, we are humanized and we are a culture of beings valued for who we are as a people.

In the movie one of the characters asks, “Who would make sure that the statue of David is still standing or the Mona Lisa is still smiling? Who will protect her?” If the focus had only been on defeating the Germans, the “monuments men” would not have made sense and neither would the art they were trying to save. If our focus is on our humanity and our greatest expression of such, these are the values we hold dear, these are the values we fight for, and these are the reasons we endeavor to learn.


Robert J. Gilmore is the Coordinator of Faith Formation for DePaul’s Catholic Campus Ministry

 Monuments Men image from from wikipedia.org; Egan Statue from http://abt.cm/1nTAZDq