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A Fly on the Virtual Wall: Cultivating the Skill of Listening

Civic Engagement Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice Division Spirituality and Religion in Higher Education Mid-Level New Professional Senior Level
May 16, 2021 Becca Hartman-Pickerill Interfaith Youth Core

JCC Connexions, Vol. 7, No. 2, May 2021

Engaging Civic Religious Pluralism: An Ongoing Column in JCC Connexions

We’re all familiar with Zoom fatigue. It is a privilege to be able to work remotely, and yet, after sometimes 7.5 hours of online meetings (though not every day), my brain is relieved to shift abruptly at 5 p.m. to parent mode. Parent mode is tactile and mobile, no screens involved.

Reduced Appetite for the Screen

I know I’m not alone in my own smaller and smaller appetite for being on screen. Plenty has been written about the ways that the modified behaviors of this year are rewiring our brains and bodies (O'Neill & Nguyen, 2021). I have also observed this reduced appetite for the screen in one of my professional responsibilities, managing my organization’s webinars and public conversations. Attendance numbers were higher than average in the fall (75 to 150 registrants, 60% of registrants in attendance), but it has been a challenge to hit half that this spring. Numbers aren’t our only - or even our main - metric, but they do indicate to me the very real fatigue.

Becca Hartman-PickerillListening as a Priority

Yet alongside the reduced access to interacting with people who are different from each of us outside of our homes, there is an opportunity and a necessity to continue to complexify the stories we know about our neighbors even from our office chairs and couches. Among the skills necessary to cultivate civic religious pluralism, the act of listening must be a top priority. Viewing or participating in a webinar could be strengthened by being paired with additional reading, reflection worksheets, and assignments for discussion and meaning making. And yet, even simply listening to someone else’s experience, stories and interaction with others, paying attention to our own reactions, and cultivating curious questions, are elements of a valuable exercise in itself.

Highlights From "Public Conversation Series"

For educators and students alike with brain space for a few more videos, I am eager to share a highlights reel from Interfaith Youth Core’s (IFYC) monthly "Public Conversation Series: Centering Racial Equity in Building Interfaith America." The goal of this series has been to elevate the voices of practitioners, scholars, activists, artists, and civic leaders at the intersection of racial equity and interfaith cooperation. Each month is focused on a different topic, from the future of chaplaincy and equity in governance to anti-racism work within immigrant religious communities. These public conversations contribute to IFYC’s three parts of pluralism, particularly, respect for religious and non-religious identity (the other two are mutually inspiring relationships and common action for the common good).

The intimacy of a virtual dialogue invites a wide audience into the stories and complexity of the human experience. Here are a few truly poignant and beautiful moments from a range of this year’s conversations with people’s humanity on display:

Black Leaders & The Future of Higher Education: This discussion kicked off the series for IFYC with Eboo Patel (IFYC President and Founder) in conversation with Fred Davie (Executive Vice President, Union Theological Seminary), Mary Dana Hinton (President, Hollins University), and Lori White (President, DePauw University). 

The Day After the Election: In October, we gathered civic and religious leaders to discuss how they were preparing for a post-election U.S., regardless of the outcome. Hind Makki (Institute for Social Policy & Understanding) moderated this conversation with Rev. Zina Jacque (Community Church of Barrington; A Year of Courageous Conversations), Pardeep Kaleka (Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee; Serve2Unite) and John Wood, Jr (Braver Angels).

The People’s Inauguration: Bridgebuilding in a Time of Turmoil: The week after the Capitol insurrection, this thoughtful group of civic leaders gathered to discuss a new take on the theme of bridge building in a time of such profound distrust, divides and danger. Rev. Jen Bailey (Faith Matters Network) moderated the conversation with Kalia Abiade (Pillars Fund), Mandisa Thomas (Black Nonbelievers), Simran Jeet Singh (YSC Consulting) and Branden Polk (Stand Together).

Profound Discussion as Implications for Our Lives

There are many barriers to building healthy relationships with people who look, believe, live and worship differently than each of us. Information bias (more quickly believing information that reinforces an existing narrative I hold to), partisan sources, and the impact of algorithms on what news each of us sees and believes, are among these challenges. Even my kindergartener has digital literacy courses this spring, via Google Classroom, to learn at the age of 5 how to discern a reputable site. Yet, as we continue to push ourselves and our students outside of our own knowledge and experience, and as people seek to learn more about pursuing equity in this experiment of a diverse democracy, I commend all to join in on trusted virtual conversations amongst everyday leaders in this work. Each of us has an opportunity to be a fly on the wall in profound discussions with myriad implications for our lives. And then, please do step away from the computer and enjoy some fresh air.


Interfaith Youth Core. (2020, September 10). Black Leaders & the Future of Higher Education. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4svspyKUkYA.

Interfaith Youth Core. (2021, April 13). Candace Moore on Racial Equity and Interfaith Leadership in America's 3rd Largest City. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTDQhp3niUc&t=1s.

Interfaith Youth Core. (2021, March 12). Immigrant Faith Communities as Anti-Racist Allies. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4ZZ-_IISTc&t=1s.

Interfaith Youth Core. (2020, October 7). The Day After the Election: Centering Racial Equity in Building Interfaith America. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MezIxDRWR1Q.

Interfaith Youth Core. (2020, November 13). The Future of Chaplaincy and How to Heal. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCxhdJFyvlw.

Interfaith Youth Core. (2021, January 14). The People's Inauguration: Bridgebuilding in a Time of Turmoil. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Jo3g930Lp0

O'Neill, S., & Nguyen, A. (2021, March 21). Too Much Focusing Is Draining. Here's A Better Strategy. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2021/03/21/979183329/too-much-focusing-is-draining-heres-a-better-strategy.