“Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self.” Dean Jackson
It’s hard to understand what we haven’t experienced or lived. Particularly, it is hard to make decisions that affect others when we don’t know nor understand the challenges others face. Examples are abundant: rich people failing to understand the challenges faced by those with less fortune yet still making decisions that affect them, men failing to understand the challenges faced by those not identifying as males yet still making decisions that affect them, faculty failing to understand the challenges current students face yet still making decisions that affect them, citizens of wealthy countries failing to show compassion to those coming from less privileged places yet still making decisions that affect them, among many others.
In one way or another, we have all been there. We certainly haven’t lived every situation to have awareness about the challenges others face. But one thing we can all do is listen. Listen to the marginalized; listen to the underrepresented; listen to those we have discriminated against; listen to the oppressed; listen to those that will be affected by your decisions; listen to those that don’t look like you; listen to those that don’t think like you. Just sit down and listen.
I want to highlight two events that happened last week. On one side, Thomas Goodwillie, wrote a piece for the Inclusion/Exclusion blog aimed “at people who have good intentions but who also have a tendency toward complacency.” On the post, found here, he states “The main message of this post is: listen and learn.” I encourage you to read it now and then come back to this piece.
Also last week, a Vice President of the AMS stated her personal opinion against the mandated use of faculty diversity statements in hiring decisions and compared such requirements to McCarthyist loyalty oaths. The post, in my view, shows that the author of the article, who is an accomplished mathematician in many axes, has not listened to those affected by the views she shares in the piece. In general, if you agree with her views, I encourage you to think about who are you centering in such views.
A group of mathematician came together and wrote a response to the article. In our response, we chose to center those that have not been traditionally represented in mathematics. We chose to center the people that have not been traditionally represented in the AMS. This response, available here: Response to Notices Editorial, has gathered over 500 signatures and counting. I encourage you to read it, and if you are in agreement, to sign it. Now whether you are in agreement or not, please read it. Think about it. And every time you are set to go into a position of power over others or are about to make a decision that will affect others, please think about whether you have listened to them first.