Staying Curious to Learn
Today, we hear from Holly Bechiri, a brilliant, brave, and badass human, artist, writer, and editor.
Over the last few weeks, we've heard from leaders in our series unpacking L3 Catalyst Group's Ls: Learn, Lead, & Liberate.
At L3 Catalyst Group, we believe that leadership is intention in action. Leadership requires constant curiosity for learning. Everyone can be a leader, irrespective of one's formal position. Leadership is significant and complex. It embraces conflict and is grounded in personal and organizational commitments, values, and vision for change. Addressing this complexity requires everyone's engagement to do their own work for the collective whole.
Heartfelt thanks to you, Holly, for sharing your wise reflections on curiosity.
Dear readers, you may notice that this guest blog post is a bit unique, in that it's a letter to Dax Shepard. Hang with it. It's full of wisdom and truth-telling, with a healthy dose of anger directed toward not listening to, and not centering the knowing of, gender non-conforming and trans folks. I can't take credit for the perfect timing of this posting during trans awareness week, yet for Holly's eloquent call-in, I am grateful.
Fellow leaders and learners, I wish you courage, rest, and beloved community along the journey.
Dear Dax Shepherd,
I can't stop thinking about an interview you had with Jonathan Van Ness on your podcast weeks ago. I cannot let go of how uncomfortable it made me feel. Perhaps it was more disappointing because I usually think of you as "one of the good guys," someone who cares about people, is curious, and loves to hear others' stories. You seem endlessly fascinated except, this time, with a person in front of you enduring a current "hot button" political onslaught. This time, you were in a debate about this person's rights…with the person themself.
So, while everyone else seems to have long ago moved on to more recent bad news, I'm still thinking about your lost opportunity to learn and how it cost you–and cost Van Ness even more dearly. I know that wasn't your intention to hurt someone you admire, but you did. You hurt another person because you did not come into your conversation interested in learning.
I don't think we stop to realize how often we have so quickly decided our opinions. What if, instead, we stopped deciding opinions and started listening? How much more we would learn about the world around us and our fellow humans if we would stop coming to conclusions and stay curious?
As a former journalist, I was told not to decide the story before I had completed the interview. I admit that I don't always remember to stay curious–after all, I'm still learning. But I hope we can both learn together to pause our opinions when conversing with people different from us. When I listened to your podcast episode, it was clear that you had not taken that journalistic approach to your discussion. You provided hypotheticals (oh man, how people outside a community love to conjecture our hypotheticals) that had no real-life examples and most certainly were not representative of the norm. You were surprised to hear about all the bills being passed against the trans community. You kept disagreeing with a trans person about their own reality while making note of how you like them because they're funny (which started to sound like "I like your entertainment value"). You interrupted. You dismissed data, expert information, and the human in front of you for sound bites you wanted to assert.
In short, you didn't listen, and you were not there to learn. You had an expert in front of you, and you–with your apparent lack of education and research–decided you needed to debate the expert.
Please hear me, my fellow straight, white, cis middle American: we can do better. We need to do better. Not having a posture of learning, of listening, of staying curious: it is to our detriment. But more importantly, it is to the detriment of those we don't seem to be open to learning from. Now, while I was fuming, throwing my phone across the room, and letting swear words run down like a river, Van Ness, bless them, continued to be exceedingly gracious and forgiving. I wanted them to tell you off because you truly deserved it, but they didn't.
Instead, they told you how they're exhausted. The exhaustion, even piled upon our trans community by those who are supposed to be the "good guys," is real. I know because I am the mother of a trans daughter, and she is exhausted. At a mere 12 years old, she is immensely exhausted. I try to listen to my trans friends and hear they, too, are exhausted.
Learning, being willing to pause and listen, might help you let go of those hypothetical arguments that are not just your opinions but actually part of the greater system, the structure, the foundational building blocks that continue to hold up the mistreatment and oppression of trans people. Coming into conversations with a person from an oppressed community that you do not belong to with a posture of learning will help you to stop talking long enough to actually understand why your actions and attitude during your podcast were harmful to my daughter and her community.
It is harmful to spout hypotheticals not based on science, data, or facts. It is harmful to assume we know what is best for an oppressed community that we are not a part of. It is harmful to engage in a political debate about someone else's rights with them. Yes, we need to have discussions about these things. But debating a trans person about trans rights is harmful and really–ridiculous.
It would be like me arguing with you about your rights as a child to not be abused for me to decide what was abusive to you and how it affected you. I was not abused as a child. When talking to you? It's not time for a "discussion." It's time for me to listen. Because you are the expert. You have the lived experience. I can learn from you. I have no right to debate you. Wouldn't that be ridiculous?
When you were sitting down with Van Ness, they were not your equal debate partner about trans rights. But that's how you treated them. You could have come with genuine questions of curiosity, listening ears, and no conclusions or opinions expressed. Or–imagine this–you could have just not brought it up. We don't have to talk about everything all the time with everyone. Van Ness has plenty of other facets of their life interesting enough to talk about. At the least, approach topics of a person's lived experience with a posture of learning.
In this power structure, Van Ness should have been your teacher in this scenario. Instead, you approached them as your equal. When it comes to trans rights, a trans person is not your equal. They are your superior. Learn to understand when someone else has more expertise than you. Learn to keep your mouth shut about your opinions on rights when you are part of a community with power, and you are in conversation with someone who does not hold that power. Learn to read the room. Learn to listen and respect others' lived experiences.
TL:DR (Too Long: Didn't Read): We all need to learn when to shut up.
What Holly is reading, watching & listening to:
- Erin Reed's substack
- All the Light We Cannot See on Netflix
- Everything Happens with Kate Bowler
- Noah Kahan, Angie McMahon
Questions for consideration from Holly:
- What subjects have you already decided your opinion on that you could let go of long enough to get curious enough? What expert could you listen to in order to learn more about what they are experiencing?
- How have you been harmed by others deciding their opinions about your life? How could you avoid harming others in this way? How could you keep yourself in a listening posture?
L3 Catalyst Group Blogs Related to Learning:
November 15, 2023