Since 2017, Sushila has regularly hosted conversations in cafes, her living room, schools, libraries, and by video on topics like guns and responsibility, healthcare, status and privilege, women in power, and race and ethnicity. She has been a key volunteer in mentoring and training new hosts and helped shape our Libraries Program.
We are so grateful for Sushila’s service, tenacity, heart, and care. Sushila took a moment to reflect on the milestone and share her biggest learning yet –– how to slow down and truly listen:
I’m celebrating my 100th Living Room Conversation and all that I learned in the past 5 years. I originally thought I would be bringing our country together one conversation at a time. It was a lofty ideal and still valid. I did not know that I would be going on a personal journey learning how to listen. I noticed in my first conversation, The America We Want to Be, that people like to talk more than we like to listen. Is it because we focus on self and winning and see more examples of arguing than listening to understand? Did anyone teach us how to listen? Isn’t it surprising that when we actually listen, we’re shocked that people could think so differently from our point of view and believe so fiercely?
I practice listening in every Living Room Conversation and notice my personal conversations improving, too. Recently, I agreed to a conversation around public health and vaccinations with my son if he could follow the conversation agreements. I wanted to share my life experiences rather than argue. I was able to breathe through my discomfort. I let go of any expectations or need to defend myself. I was curious about what he would say. He shared his concerns about COVID cases going up in our small town and how his friend, the hospital director, was dealing with people not being vaccinated. I could feel his love and concern for me. I needed time to reconsider and he listened to me.
I don’t expect people to change their minds in a conversation; however, other perspectives help me examine my own thinking and life with more curiosity. When I slow down and take the time to truly listen there is something deeply gratifying in the connection.
– Sushila Mertens