Hope for Sustainable Hospitality: Learning to Listen Ethically through Discourses of Difference and Dialogic Philosophy
Parks, Elizabeth Shun-Ching
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There are ways of being in the world that create a good and flourishing life and other ways that restrict that life, both for ourselves and others. Listening, as an active communication process that shapes our individual and collective identities, is one of these ways of being. Listening gives shape to speaking, inviting other people into a dialogue that impacts the discursive environments that then impact us. Our acts of listening, like all communication, are shaped by our cultural and individual differences. Unfortunately, as people consider ways to ethically shape others and themselves through listening, they often abide by a set of rules developed through a particular standpoint that does not reflect or benefit their own or others’ unique situations and communities. This unreflective listening can lead to deep misunderstanding and relational barriers that hinder good dialogue between individuals and communities. This is especially dangerous when people are marginalized because of their particular embodiments of listening that benefit their communities yet fall outside of broader prescribed listening norms. In this dissertation, I respond to gaps in scholarship related to listening in communication research and difference in ethics scholarship to construct a dialogic listening ethic based on situated difference, embedded in historical narratives, and focused on emerging dialogue. Rather than imposing a rigid or prescriptive norm that is unresponsive to a community’s particular cultural practices, a dialogic ethic is one that is highly contextualized and pluralistic and yet dares to make normative claims. I go beyond describing what listening is in a given context to what ethical listening should be by listening to and incorporating the insights of multiple communities of difference and dialogic philosophers. I use research methods that are both quantitative (survey and corpus linguistics), qualitative (metaphoric criticism and value analysis) to empirically identify 12 values shared by several communities of difference that represent diverse ethnic, gender, and disability orientations (Asian, Caucasian, Deaf, First Nation, Latino/a, and LGBTQ) as they reflected on and discursively constructed good listening through online survey responses and English and American Sign Language focus group dialogues. These values are: authenticity, relationship building, time management, problem solving, cultivating understanding, care, retaining information, correct focus, intentional presence, openness to learning, response, and conversational engagement. My findings evidence both trans-community similarities and inter-community differences in these 12 listening values. On one hand, the participants in this study expressed a foundational orientation to openness of learning in which good listeners actively try to understand another person’s core identities and communicated meanings. Listening required a critical orientation for discerning truth and goodness in any situation so that dialogic partners could work together toward creating a more ideal world. It required people to embrace vulnerability and engage in reciprocal relationships, intentionally choosing to be present and respond to the aspects of the dialogue that were of most importance to the relationship. Finally, participants needed the knowledge and skills to embody listening in ways through which speakers feel appropriately attended to, for example through effective eye contact, quietness, and use of conversational encouragers. On the other hand, participants made some distinct, culturally-grounded choices as they enacted listening, including diverging enactments of authenticity and honesty, pursuit of criticism and relationship building through listening, acts of reciprocity in relational networks, adaptation of identity presentation in a given relationship, choices to express disagreement with a dialogic partner, differing physical engagement especially through eye contact and other sensory choices, and communicating silence through vocal absence and conversational encouragers as an invitation for another to continue speaking. Ultimately, I argue that ethical listening is best conceptualized as the pursuit of sustainable hospitality in our dialogic interactions within and across difference. By understanding the ways that different people share values, we can affirm a shared humanity that promotes a normative listening ethic shared by all. By embracing a diversity of culturally-based performances of those values and how we hope others will listen to us, we can create a more nuanced ethic that is responsive to multiple narrative histories and futures and better understand how we ought to listen. By contextualizing both shared and distinct listening values and performances in a broader understanding of discourse that transcends any one particular moment in time, we can learn to trust each other in our dialogic relationships and attest to the hope that ethical dialogue is possible.
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