As an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, I have some fond memories of my many years in Greensboro both as a student and a professional. It was a special moment to return as the keynote speaker at this year’s North Carolina Counseling Association Annual Conference.
My speech focused on diversity and the fact that it encompasses so much more than just black and white. One participant reveled that some of my personal accounts lead her to recall an incident in her own life. She explained that when she moved from a Northern state to a Southern state, that one of her new Southern neighbors hung a sign that said “Yankee go home.” She described the incident as hurtful, but it gave her more insight into the pain of others who have experienced prejudice throughout their lives.
Another member of the audience explained that my focus on the importance of active listening resonated with her as a counselor educator. She discussed the fact that listening is one of the basic tenets of counseling that she emphasizes to her students. Listening is a process that requires effort and counselors and counselor educators are in an excellent position to model active and effective listening.
We live in one of the most diverse countries in the world, and it is important that we understand how powerful it is to honor those who differ from ourselves. Tolerating differences is not the same thing as celebrating and valuing those differences. Our ability to truly listen will forge an understanding between diverse groups and construct bridges that will connect us and reduce the gaps that keep us divided.