Listening to Understand: The biggest takeaway from my ALF experience as a Fellow in Class XVII

By Linda Gold, Class XVII

How easy it is to align myself with those who think like me, look like me—with those who share my values, my politics, my cultural norms.

How powerful and magical is it to plant bare  feet in the mud, standing with those who overtly or subtly resent my privilege, hail my privilege, challenge my being to the core, oppose my liberalism, oppose my conservative positions, loathe my luck, begrudge my blessings, question my authenticity?

The power and the magic happen when I remember there are at least three sides to every story; to acknowledge that everyone has a meaningful story to tell and wants to be heard; and that DIALOG is our ticket to understanding, to finding common ground. When I remember, I can stand with feet planted firmly in the mud and the chaos, and listen to understand.

Over the past 12 years, I’ve had ample opportunity to practice. Practice hasn’t yet “made perfect,” but I keep trying…

Deciding to shut down my then 27-year-old business in 2008 and faced with employee opposition & request for alternate strategy, I relied on the process of ALF dialog, listened to staff along with many naysayer professional perspectives, gave it another shot with a whole new mindset, and we’re still here going strong 9 years later.

Informed of Islam teaching throughout my Fellows experience, I’ve been able to support Muslim friends opposing prejudicial policies. Gaining insight into healthcare practices during my Class XVII experience, I’ve been able to better navigate the system for those in need and participate in support of aid-in-dying legislation. Because of relationships in the ALF network, I have had opportunities to connect people with jobs and nonprofit agencies with corporate sponsorship.

Best of all, my whiteness and my privilege have been overtly & covertly called into question over the last several years.  This has been a HUGE challenge for me, particularly in the beginning, believing to my core that I don’t have a bigoted muscle in my body. Yet, I am learning about what white privilege is—at the highest level—the  fact that no one questions whether I am educated or employed, whether I am citizen or immigrant, whether my check is going to bounce at the grocery store, whether I speak English, whether I am a potential danger, whether … fill-in-the-blanks. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  The latest salient example of ALF’s influence in my work for the greater good is collaboration with Monarch Services (http://monarchservicesscc.org) in the creation of our Cultural Humility statement, which is core criteria for the agency’s operating principles and board recruitment.

“Monarch Services embraces the spirit of cultural humility by understanding and dismantling systemic oppression through a lifelong commitment to self-reflection and self-critique of one’s own power and privilege in society.”

A few years ago, at age 60, thanks to the encouragement I received during my year in ALF, I went back to school earning my B.A. & M.A. in Leadership Studies from Saint Mary’s College in Moraga. While a worthwhile investment, I’m here to tell you I learned far more, with a significantly smaller investment, from my ALF experience!