Willing to Listen, Willing to Share

Strength and InfluenceInterfaith Connections

Moving to Australia was a culture shock in more ways than one.

I was twelve, had a fringe cut, and was thrust into a room in the oldest boarding house of one of Australia’s most prestigious private schools with three other kids I had never met. All of a sudden, I no longer had my mother to check all my homework every day; I no longer could go to Starbucks with my dad after dinner; I no longer had that safe harbor to rely on whenever trouble struck. Instead, I found myself navigating through crowds of aliens, all of whom looked different and spoke unfamiliar languages, by myself. Green eyes, brown eyes, fair skin, dark skin — everyone looked different and had different ideals and expressed them without censorship. China’s culture is not one which encourages free, individual opinions; consequently, I found this diverse independence novel and, oftentimes, almost threatening.

So, finding my voice during my first few years in Australia was quite a challenge. I was reluctant to venture out of my comfort zone — namely, studying, sports, and blending in. So for a good three and a half years, I was quite lost. I dropped violin and piano, and solely stuck to my strengths: tennis, soccer, and video games. I wasn’t exactly a nobody at school, but I wasn’t at the center of anything — just a nice guy who happened to be pretty good at studying.

But something I did do very well was listen to others (which is partly why I was labeled a nice guy). Listening is very much a part of Chinese doctrine, especially when it pertains to elders and authority figures, so that was something I was used to and quite good at. Classmates, teachers, people I randomly walk with, whomever — I let them talk. And I’m glad I do, because I have learned a lot from them. From a girl who did circus, I learned about the “flying trapeze”; from a Vietnamese immigrant, I learned some very colorful Vietnamese words; from listening to my homeroom teacher, I learned more about physics than any science class has ever taught me. During a year nine math class, my neighboring classmate taught me how to play on my phone without getting caught, and that was probably the sole cause of the mess that was my math grades that year.

However, not everything was lighthearted and positive. I was ignorant about many of the world’s most pressing issues, and if I hadn’t listened, I’d still be steeped in that ignorance. From an Aboriginal student’s shocking speech about the bullying he suffered, I learned about the dark undercurrents of systemic racism which remain deep-rooted in the country. From Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes exposé on the inhumane conditions of live animal exporting, I found out about the harrowing animal welfare predicament, which plagues the nation as a premium agricultural exporter. From listening to a friend’s confessions about her struggles with depression, I became aware of the mental health crisis that hounds adolescents, including those around me.

Listening to others has gifted me with knowledge about society’s most pressing issues, and along with that knowledge, a passion for sparking change. I was influenced, moved, affected by what I heard, and the deep, sticky swamp of cynical apathy in which I had been mired suddenly felt rather shameful. As time passed, I became increasingly engaged with student bodies that seek to promote social and economic inequality. I took an active interest in politics. I started my own blog, on which I share my opinion on issues like gender inequality, the climate crisis, the wealth gap, and more. As I stepped into year 11, I finally found the voice that had been absent for the better part of five years.

That was when others began to listen to me — my friends, my classmates, my teachers, even strangers on the internet. The more I listened and debated and engaged with the voices of others, the more willing they were to listen to me. Being willing to listen and respect other people’s ideas and opinions had somehow earned me that same respect. And how empowering it was, to listen and be listened to! This gave me a chance to share my individuality; to add my own color of diversity; to begin to make a difference, and empower others to do the same.

I suppose that, by definition, I have influence. I like to think of my influence as rather positive, though I do admit that influence is very much a double-edged sword. The wrong kind of influence is exerted by force and deception. The wrong kind coerces and tricks its victims to do the bidding of the wielder. The wrong kind demands obedience instead of respect. It encourages ignorance instead of intellectualism. It smothers dissident voices instead of debating them. It is the elimination of diversity rather than its expansion. It does not listen. I listen, and I believe in the progressive nature of the influence I exercise — one that garners and promotes respect, encourages rational and intellectual debate, and bases itself on truths rather than lies, distractions, and ad hominems. It is the kind we lack and desperately need in this increasingly polarized socio-political landscape. And it begins with listening to others — not just listening, but absorbing, considering and being willing to modify existing views in light of new stories and perspectives.

This kind of positive influence can only be practiced when you are willing to both listen and share. It’s difficult to do one or the other, much less both, especially when it seems like no one else wants to. I know. I’ve been there. But radical change always begins as a spark. It always begins with you, the individual, the first. So, sometimes you need to open your mouth; sometimes you need to shut it for a while, and open your ears and mind instead. When that time comes, you know what to do.

Author's Note: When we first came together to write this piece, Max suggested the strength of listening and Jasmine offered how influence is found through diversity and the expansion of opinions. To combine our ideas into one coherent piece, Jasmine wrote a rough draft that laid out the structure and general message of the piece. Max then added specific anecdotal examples and fine-tuned the original draft. In the end, most of the specific anecdotes are told from Max's perspective, whereas Jasmine's voice is found in the more theoretical parts of the piece. Nonetheless, due to our common immigration backgrounds and experiences of finding our voices through listening, the overarching meaning of the piece still holds true for both of us.

Max is a 12th grader from Melbourne, Australia who is interested in writing, environmental activism and advocacy, literature, politics, and sports.

Jasmine Xu is a Year 10 student in Australia who has a keen interest in politics and philosophy, as well as the connections between the two. Other than reading and writing about political philosophy in her free time, Jasmine also avidly engages in drama, art, music and all other kinds of expressive arts

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