The Listening Table

by Matt Mattson

While wandering around USC’s campus the other day making friends (which was a blast), I happened upon a very creative student organization recruitment tactic. 

There were a number of tables set up along the main drag of campus — there were some political groups, the Greenpeace folks were out there, a guy selling tickets to play paintball, a Relay-for-Life group, and a gospel choir selling delicious $1 cookies.  All were doing good work tabling, but there was one other table that really stood out to me.  They had a sign hanging on their table that read, “What’s Your Beef With Christianity?”

Now, religious content aside, I was first intrigued because their sign was a QUESTION, and not a statement.  So, I walked up and asked them about it.  I assumed they were an atheist/agnostic group that was looking for like-minded people with whom they could commiserate, but I was wrong.  At first they wouldn’t really tell me who they were, they just said…

“We’re here to listen.”

So, I asked them what their position was, and they said…

“Actually, we just want to learn from people.  We’re here to listen.”

Then I asked them what they were going to do with my response, and they said…

“Just think about it and learn from it.  We’re ready to listen.”

So, I started sharing my viewpoint.  They kept asking more questions, listening, taking notes, and asking more questions.  Suddenly I found myself blabbing on about a topic that was meaningful to me, and I was being listened to seriously.  It was awesome.  That doesn’t seem to happen much on a college campus — especially at organizational tables that are typically meant to “get your name out there”.

Imagine, setting up a booth or doing marketing work that wasn’t meant to SHOUT OUT HOW AWESOME YOUR ORGANIIZATION IS…  Imagine just offering to listen.  Listen to others’ opinions of you and your group.  Listen to others’ ideas for your organization. Listen to others’ ideas about your campus and community.  Listen to learn.  Listen to engage. Listen to connect with others.  Listen because it will make the other person’s day.  What if we just listened more.

Turns out this was a Christian organization, and they NEVER ONCE tried to tell me anything about their viewpoint.  We engaged in meaningful dialogue, but they weren’t trying to convince me of anything, they were just trying to connect with me, learn from me, and likely create an opportunity to follow up with me.  Smart.