Here in the United States we’re fond of our efficiency and our punctuality, with days so scheduled it can feel as though we haven’t a minute to spare. We get a lot done, but often pay the price in stress and lost opportunities to connect.
SIL LEAD executive director Paul Frank observed a different approach at a four-day workshop in Abidjan. Abidjan is a mix of traditional and modern, a fast-developing city in the country of Ivory Coast (known officially as the République de Côte d'Ivoire). Located on the country’s southern Atlantic coast, Abidjan is exactly the sort of place you might expect to find an antidote to our overscheduled, stress-filled lives.
After a day or so at the workshop, Paul observed that “every presenter who asked a question or made a comment after a presentation started with a compliment to the presenter. This was always some variation on, ‘I want to thank the speaker for a very good presentation.’ It didn’t matter if their comment turned out to be supportive or critical of some point or another. They always started out with something positive.”
This is, as are many of our own Western social niceties, an inefficient use of time. But in contrast to some professional meetings Paul has attended here in the United States, the practice took the time to first acknowledge and appreciate the effort the other person had made in presenting their point of view.
Perhaps even more striking at the workshop was the effort the Chair made to ensure that every single person was heard. As Paul put it, “even if the session was running overtime (sometimes way over), the Chair would always make sure everyone who wanted to speak had the opportunity. Put simply, the session wasn’t over until everyone had had an opportunity to speak. My American time orientation chafed at this, but another part of me applauded the inclusive spirit this showed. There's a lot we can learn from our African sisters and brothers.”
Beyond demonstrating a perhaps more human touch, this approach offers a valuable insight into the very reason SIL LEAD exists—to help create a world in which every person, regardless of context, has the opportunity for their voice to be heard.
Too often in our efforts to adhere to efficiency and a predetermined agenda, the microphone goes only to the loudest and most powerful voices. In our rush to get things done, we often give little regard to the needs of the few, the small, the quiet.
But there is strength and wisdom in those marginalized minorities. When their voices are heard—when we take the time to ensure they have a chance to speak—the world becomes a fuller, richer place.