Three Types of Listening

07 November 2014

Photo by Steven Shorrock, from

Jesuit Refugee Service UK is based at the Hurtado Jesuit Centre in East London. The Centre has just completed a “listening exercise” in the local neighbourhood. Kate, who works with JRS and at the Centre reflects on the importance of listening when we are building relationships with other members of our community.
What does listening mean to you? What does the dictionary tell us it might mean? Here are three meanings I found: “to give one’s attention to a sound” i.e. to be attentive, to give ear to, to concentrate. Another meaning: “to take notice and act on what someone says” i.e. follow what they say, bear it in mind, take it into consideration, an active response to a request or some advice shared. And finally: “make an effort to hear something, be alert and ready to hear” i.e. a sense of listening out for something that might be missed, trying to catch something at a deeper level or from a place beyond where we already are.
Over the last six months, at the Hurtado Jesuit Centre, we have set time aside to build relationships with our neighbours and community partners in Wapping and across Tower Hamlets. This meant us concentrating our attention on those around us, being curious about their work, caring enough to find out what their needs are and enjoy getting to know them. Sometimes it meant easy connections, otherwise it was about popping by, building trust and creating space to listen.
Now we are at the stage of reflecting on what we have heard: it is about taking notice of what people were generous enough to share with us. Now we have gained the privilege of being welcomed into other people’s projects and priorities, we need to follow up on what they have said, to consider it carefully and explore with them how we can act on what they have said matters to them. This is less about us reaching out to offer something to others, but a process of getting to know another and developing something jointly.
And as we search for a sense of what is beyond where we are now, in terms of our programme, we hope that we will be alert to the unexpected, open to fresh wisdom and willing to respond to surprises. Community engagement is never boring, but hopefully we might avoid being so busy that our imaginations get tired or that we get pressured into taking the easy option. So we trust that as our Centre grows in maturity, we continue to have time to welcome people each week, be responsive to real problems and get involved in creative, challenging activities.
I wonder if these three types of listening are ones that we can all bear in mind as we go about our busy community work in our neighbourhood and local borough? To listen to one another with respect as we share different perspectives and learn something new. To listen with a view to putting what we have learnt into action, to really make a difference in practical ways. And to listen out for that deeper wisdom or clues for future community needs, changing trends and creative opportunities to work together over the months ahead.
Read the report of our findings “Welcome to Wapping: The Value of Community in a Tower Hamlets Village” . One of the themes emerging from the report is Migration and Immigration which will be developed with JRS-UK.

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Jesuit Refugee Service UK
The Hurtado Jesuit Centre
2 Chandler Street, London E1W 2QT

020 7488 7310

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