Active Listening to Sharpen Self-Awareness of our Living Heritages

From Elävän perinnön wikiluettelo


Photo by Kamilla Śladowska
Photo by Kamilla Śladowska

Active Listening and Sharpening Self-Awareness are both communication and mindset techniques that are part of anti-racist practices. Kirsten Ivey-Colsen and Lynn Turner state, “Anti-racism is a way of life. Like starting any new habit, anti-racism requires a conscious decision to pursue it as a goal and way of being. Intention brings mindful presence and awareness to what we say and what we do.” In regards to Living Heritage, Active Listening and Sharpening Self-Awareness can improve as well as bring to light our personal histories as they are carried in our beliefs, thoughts, expressions, identities, and cultural experiences. These practices can cultivate ‘cultural self-awareness’, which can in turn enhance intercultural understanding. We may not all be in agreement, but having awareness of and truly listening to what is underlying in the narrative will bring us closer to having a deeper understanding and perhaps acceptance of different ways of appreciating unique and diverse living heritages.

Active listening is a communication technique that involves giving undivided attention to the speaker. Active Listening offers a perspective and methodology in which one can hear what is being received in the way intended. It is about putting one in a place where they can listen to nuances as well as open discussion and ask questions to others in the conversation. This creates a setting and puts everybody in a position of wanting to be sure they understand what is being communicated. A technique used in Active Listening is to paraphrase what was heard. By repeating in your own words what was heard, validates what was communicated as well as limits assumptions and nurtures empathy with everybody in dialogue.

According to Avery Viehmann, there are three basic steps for responding in the following order: 1. Paraphrase: Explain what you believe has been said in your own words. 2. Clarify: Ensure you understand what has been said through asking questions. 3. Summarize: Offer a concise overview of what you believe the main points and intent of the message received are.

Guidelines to help fine tune one's ability to follow these steps: Keep your attention on the message being presented. Refrain from thinking about your own response to what is being presented. Refrain from offering judgment on anything the other person says. Observe non-verbal content. These are their own kind of communication which can be clarified by the active listener. Liv Larsson states, “When you use what in NVC (nonviolent communication) is known as “listening with empathy”, you are translating what someone is saying to what they are feeling and needing when they express themselves.” Sharpening Self-Awareness is about, for example, understanding how one’s perspective has been formed, being more mindful of our experience, as well as exploring somatic attunement and any unconscious biases. We can tune into ourselves by asking ourselves the following prompts.

Are any judgements coming up for you? Do you notice any reactions or responses in your body? Eg. any uncomfortable sensations or irritation. What emotions are arising and what needs are being met or not being met? One can consider practicing self-reflection, which is a tool for cultivating self-awareness through journaling, meditation, and other ways to recognize ones’ reactions, responses, etc. We suggest having open discussion, reflect with people you trust and know your strengths, weaknesses, and values.


Active Listening and Sharpening Self-Awareness have a long history in various communities and cultures. They can be identified with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work that has been around at least in the United States since the 1960s. It has evolved in form, language and concept since then, yet it still seems true. As author Janice Gassam Asare points out, “When DEI practitioners and anti-racism educators are hired into companies and institutions, the core curriculum typically centers around helping the white majority learn and understand racism.” Shifting the focus to identifying and supporting the needs of all genders and people belonging to different minorities, regardless of e.g. gender identity, ethnic background, ability status, sexual orientation, religion or age is essential.

Carl Rogers and Richard Farson coined the term active listening in 1957, in a short book presenting the method as one that “requires that we get inside the speaker, that we grasp, from his point of view, just what it is he is communicating to us. More than that, we must convey to the speaker that we are seeing things from his point of view.” As one hones this tool, some argue that it develops emotional maturity and lessens self-defensiveness because as we listen to the other empathetically we can gain more insight into our way of feeling and thinking. Active Listening in some circles can be called Compassionate Listening and Deep Listening. Some archaeologists date meditation or the practice of self-awareness back to as early as 3,500 BCE. Depending on the school of thought and lineage, mediation is essentially a training in awareness and perception of one’s body and of the environment. It requires practice and much presence from the practitioner. Native Americans in North America have the tradition of “Talking Circle,” which brings people of all ages together to teach, listen, learn and share.


“Culture for All Service” is an organisation in Finland that works towards the inclusion of diverse audiences not only with art and cultural institutions, but also with different audience groups. The service operates nationally in the field of art and culture. Its objective is to offer information and support to cultural operators on questions connected with accessibility and diversity. Culture for All Service was launched in 2003 and was run by the Community Relations and Development Department KEHYS of the Finnish National Gallery until June 2013. Now the service is run by an association called Yhdenvertaisen kulttuurin puolesta ry.

Creating programmes and initiatives that give people tools to know how to raise awareness of one’s behaviors, mindset and history as a way to move towards a more equitable society is Culture for All Service’s mission. Culture for All Service’s project “Diversity as a starting point for municipalities' art and culture activities in 2025”, will provide inclusive and engaging programs on a national level and support diversity agents as well as train diversity officers. The goal of the project is to respond to the need on the municipal side for increasing diversity and equality expertise by, among other things, offering training, consultancy and other support to cultural activities of the municipalities in Finland as well as art and culture professionals working in municipalities. The diversity agent network and cultural diversity and sustainable development dialogue cards developed by The Ministry of Education and Culture (OKM) and The Arts Promotion Centre Finland (Taike) are used throughout the project in the training and consulting activities. All of the initiatives of the project respond to the core questions of ‘Does this promote diversity, inclusion and equity in the art and culture sector?’ and ‘Does this move us towards dismantling structural racism and discovering our own implicit biases as well as within municipal authorities, regional councils, and governments?’ The goal is to enter the collaboration from the perspective of wanting to actively listen, be empathetic, be critical, and to be honest. This is hoped to create a wave of positive change towards a more inclusive and equitable society where all people belong. “Diversity as a starting point for municipalities' art and culture activities in 2025” project is financed by The Ministry of Education and Culture.

Diversity Agents are a network of twenty two arts and culture professionals who have multicultural backgrounds, strategic diversity skills as well as knowledge and experience of the work ethic in Finland. Diversity Agents address a range of challenging and crucial issues such as structural racism, lack of equality and accessibility. As change makers and organizers, Diversity Agents offer ways to reflect, to develop tools, and to implement ways we can work towards a more equitable society.

The community behind the submission

Culture for All Service (Arlene Tucker)

Bibliography and links to external sources of information

Internet sources

Culture for All Service "Diversity as a starting point for municipalities' art and culture activities in 2025 project"

The Decision Lab "About Active Listening"

Janice Gassam Asare, "Why DEI And Anti-Racism Work Needs To Decenter Whiteness" Forbes ( 15.2.2021)

Kirsten Ivet-Colson and Lynn Turner, "10 Keys to Everyday Anti-Racism" Greater Good Magazine (8.9.2020)

Melissa Eisler, "The History of Meditation" Chopra (28.7.2014)

National American Indian and Alaska Native Traditional “Talking Circle” or “Healing Through Feeling”


Larsson, Liv. Helping Hand: Mediation with Nonviolent Communication.

Viehmann, Avery. "Effective Listening Skills » Writing Center". Writing Center. Retrieved 20 November 2021.