The Covid crisis is teaching us about learning and listening

Ccrop ovid aitken

Covid-19: our vulnerability might ultimately make us stronger, says Ewan Aitken

TFN Guest's photo

30th March 2020 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

Working from home because of my underlying medical conditions has had some interesting challenges.

The hardest is knowing there are many not able to stay safe as I have, including many of my dedicated and deeply committed Cyrenians colleagues.

I feel a huge, contradictory tension which I struggle with. My Presbyterian ‘sacrificial service’ background and desire to be doing things and not feeling I am hiding away clashes with knowing, given my medical history, this virus could be very dangerous for me.

The idea of my asthma and hypertension as being somehow life-limiting goes completely against how I have tried to view them up to now. It’s a sense of being vulnerable which I have not experienced before; feeling as if I am somehow weak or shirking my responsibilities despite my family and colleagues quite forcibly telling me otherwise.

Ewan Aitken

Ewan Aitken

Deep listening means not just hearing what’s been said but what’s not being said

This is a problem in my head and nowhere else, but it’s teaching me a lot about how I see who I am and to learn it is ok to look after myself as well as finding new ways of continuing to look out for others.

In amongst taking Cyrenians through a massive shift in where and how we deliver our services so we can use our resources to support the most vulnerable in this crisis, I have tried to step back and think through how else we will see ourselves after this is over.

Having to stay connected digitally means relearning the art of listening. I mean, really listening. Not just waiting-to-reply listening, but the deep listening which is the bedrock of every relationship.

Deep listening means not just hearing what’s been said but what’s not being said, watching for the non-verbal clues, the tone and the underlying emotions in the words used. All these things need a new listening when we are ‘all together’ but not in the same room; instead viewing and hearing each other via multiple faces on a screen. 

I am finding I need to replay conversations afterwards to make sure I caught things which previously I would have responded to subconsciously and been able respond to immediately. It means taking space for reflection and making that call to check out with participants after the fact. It takes more time but perhaps a more reflective pace, however slower, is no bad thing.

And more than anything, this crisis has exposed our interdependency. We need each other, we thrive when we care for each other, we feel more fully human when we choose to care for neighbour and the stranger than just for ourselves.

We are finding this to be true in communities up and down the country as the generosity of human spirit blossoms and is the lifeblood of us seeing through this crisis.

These are tough times but if we listen carefully to the new things we are learning, the vulnerability we feel may be what makes us stronger once we make it to the other side.

Ewan Aitken is chief executive of Cyrenians.