The Free Listening Project is a San Diego based social project that provides safe spaces in public places to express whatever's on your mind. It's been referred to as "a public display of connection," "free therapy," and continues to evolve through the feedback given each session. This blog documents those sessions.
The Life Coaches
A group of woman approaches, very interested in the project. One sits down, we start chatting, she’s super eager to know how the project started. “Is it a social experiment or did it start as just curiosity?” I explained how it’s both. How inherently everything for me is an experiment by nature, and also that ultimately the root cause of the project was definitely curiosity. Sometimes I do that, I take the question quite literally and try to answer it in every possible direction, eventually circling back to the answer I could have just given to begin with. Brevity is a way of expression that I am still learning and growing into. And that’s not to say brevity is always better than depth, in fact for me, it’s usually the opposite. I usually give a more complete answer when I explain my thoughts without concern over how long a sentence…., paragraph my answer is.
There’s actually a lot of self examination built into Free Listening. Eventually I broke off with Darrin, the woman who originally sat down in the chair and started to address one of the three friends that encircled us. Luckily tonight, Kayleigh a Free Listening facilitator was with me. We met at Free Listening a few weeks back and she’s been a regular every since. I find it cool, now that I’m going out every week, to have regulars that stop by and contribute to the project. I was talking with one of the other women and we were getting into how she began her trajectory towards becoming a life coach. I asked her “what were you doing just before making that change in your life?” I recall her saying how she signed up for this coaching program without telling her husband and eventually broke the news that she decided she wanted to become a life coach and would be going to this program at least one weekend a month for the next year! “He was super supportive," she said. The inspiration, as she described it was to have a job that she was in charge of, a career where she was in control. Going into the new gig, she thought, “this will be great, I get to have a job (coaching) where I get to tell people what to do.”
I laughed at this point because I could tell where she was going with it. She explained how narrow it was to assume that THAT was what a life coach did, tell people what to do! We talked about that the role of coaching is to be a platform for someone to just be heard and encourage them to look within for the answers to their questions. Neither of us felt like coaching was really about advice-giving at all. It was more about listening. I think that’s what drew the group of coaches into the project. They were all facilitating a training program in San Diego and during their free time had decided to come out to Balboa Park where our paths crossed. They were attracted to the listening part, because the essence of the project resonated with them.
They eventually left and walked down the Prado towards the smaller of the two fountains that serve as good landmarks when people ask me "where is..." Then they circled back on their way back to the parking lot and as they strolled by said “thanks for listening,” “we’re gong to check out the Hotel De Coronado” a famous San Diego tourist attraction. The carefree, good-timey vibe that screamed “we’re all close friends” was contagious and I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of them continuing their evening together. Whichever direction it took, I could tell it was going to be a a good time
Father & Son
“Its father son day,” said the man as he sat in the chair, facing in my direction. His son would scoot by every couple of minutes, stop in front of us, make eyes with his dad and then scoot make off, only to return again.
They had this language through which they communicated that was not verbal, but energetic. They just felt each other out to see if they were on the same page. The son knew exactly how far he could go and for how long without arousing concern in his father who was participating in this crazy public display called Free Listening.
He told us about the girl he was interested in. Kayleigh and I listened as he answered the question, "what do you like about her?" He went on and one and on and on...which was totally awesome to hear. He was reminded not to let this one go and to probably give her a call and set up the next date.
Eventually I motioned toward the man, went in for a California high five, we locked hands, pulled each other in for a chest bump and then used the momentum to naturally break apart. It felt like the momentum of that exchange continued as he jumped on his skateboard and sped off, side by side his son who was on one of those electric scooters that are taking over cities. I noticed as they got further and further away, that the man's skateboard had light up wheels. The magically childlike nature of this man was probably why he was able to naturally be on the same wavelength as his son.
The last two people to come over to the stand were a man in a nice suit and his wife who looked me in the eye as she shook my hand. They were getting ready to set up a display stand with a bunch of God related pamphlets. They had grown up in the Midwest where people looked out for one another and a kid couldn’t get away with anything. There was a logo on the display case. A blue circle with the letters JV written inside of it. This logo indicated to me that they were Jehovah’s witnesses. And for the rest of the conversation I pretended I had never heard anything about Jehovah’s Witnesses. And pretty quickly I went in and out of amnesia about their affiliation. It’s pretty striking how quickly others shed their affiliation when you refuse to let it affect how you treat them. He mentioned God, asked me how I felt about God, if I was a bible reader, quoted a bunch of verses, and tried to draw real life conclusions from the stories within the bible, pretty typical religious-person things. It would have been easy to view him as that typical religious person doing religious person things, but instead I focused in on the things he said in between what I could tell were canned bits to try to proselytize.
He was having a computer problem and he wanted to call his friend Tim Dole, except he didn’t want to come off as the friend who only calls when he needs something. "So I offered to fix him some of my gumbo," he said grumbling into laughter. I said, “sounds like and equal exchange, you made it worth his while.” He agreed. It’s those moments, when we shared an unaffiliated connection that I drew the most meaning from. The other stuff that was filtered through an engrained belief system was not as important to me as the experience sharing sparked by spontaneous raw connection.