"You can always just listen"

I want to talk about something that happened on the Humans of New York (HONY) Facebook page because I think it’s incredibly important, especially now when we’re possibly feeling less safe and more vulnerable than we ever have before.

For anyone who doesn’t follow HONY, it is the brainchild of Brandon Stanton, who roams New York City (and beyond) taking pictures of people and asking them to share their stories. I don’t know what exactly he asks the people he meets, but they often share the most extraordinary, raw, and unflinchingly human stories with him. I love HONY because it reminds me daily how alike we all are. Underneath the stuff that separates us – race, religion, gender, sexuality, politics, likes, dislikes – we’re all carrying our stories around inside us, for better and worse, hoping to be seen.

A lot of the time, Brandon posts just one picture with a sentence or two, but some people’s stories are too big for that, so he tells them in installments over the course of a day or more. Last week, a man told the story of how his marriage fell apart after he and his family moved to NYC so he could pursue a music career. It took four installments for him to say what he had to say, and I noticed how, even after only the first installment when we knew practically nothing, people were being very mean in the comment thread. (That’s actually not all that common on HONY.) They were calling the man a selfish bastard and saying that he got what he deserved. It made me uncomfortable, so for the rest of the man’s installments, I didn’t read the comments.

On the last post though, Brandon pinned his own comment to the top of the thread (which is also uncommon). Here’s part of what he said:

When presented with a complex story, where things aren’t always black and white, and circumstances can be as much to blame as choices– consider withholding judgment. This doesn’t mean you are condoning or validating a person’s choices. There can be a middle ground between ‘giving support’ and ‘casting judgment.’ You can always just listen…

You can always just listen.

How perfect is that? How much better would the world be if we all “just listened” more.

Here’s a thought experiment for you. Remember the last time you felt judged. Really remember it, how uncomfortable (or sad, or angry, or frustrated) it made you. Now imagine if the person passing judgment had only listened.

When I did this thought experiment, imagining myself being heard instead of judged – not even necessarily agreed with, just heard – my whole body exhaled. Just to imagine it was surprisingly powerful… this thing that hadn’t actually happened. Just think how transformative it would have been if it had been real.

So now this is my new mantra:


Listen more. Judge less.


In other news, this year’s Christmas cards are available in the shop, along with designs from the past two years.

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Pick any set, or mix-and-match your own. Plus, from now through December use this code to get 15% off any purchase of $30 or more: BYEBYE2015