Old Whines

February 25, 2013 | Marshall Wallace

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I have heard several people praise Time to Listen for its thoroughness and depth, yet also state that there is nothing new in it. “We’ve heard it all before,” they say. Of course they are wrong. There is much that is “new” in Time to Listen in the sense that the book frames the gathered experiences in a way that points toward real and practical change. That doesn’t come along everyday and to miss that is to miss the whole point of the book.

However, I want to take on the specific idea that “we’ve heard this all before”.

In fact, if you listen closely to people in recipient societies – as the Listening Project did – what people are saying is that we have not heard them. That is the basic message at the heart of Time to Listen. Indeed, if we had heard them, we would not be acting as we act. If we had heard, people said, then we would not continue to fail so egregiously and continuously.

Yes, these concerns and issues have occurred to you. You have direct experience with them, having seen them or done them. You have probably had conversations about them. But you have not actually heard them.

Time to Listen is more than a collection of stories or yet another report that makes us chuckle ruefully and squirm a little in our chairs while we remind ourselves that we are the good guys.

Time to Listen is a call to action. What are you going to do today to make someone in a recipient society’s life better?

“We’ve heard this all before.” That is a phrase we all have heard before and we have seen the results. The denial of the possibility of change in those words in no longer tenable. Time to really listen, and then act on what you have heard.

1 Comment

  1. Prentice Zinn


    Thank you for challenging the “We’ve heard it all before,” response.

    As a gatekeeper in philanthropy, I regularly hear it from foundation staff, trustees, and the NGO community.

    That reaction is evidence of sort of an antibody in our professional bloodstream.

    “We’ve heard it all before”, reveals a built-up immunity to listening.

    And, as you point out — really hearing and learning.

    It is as if we are rationing the synapses of our brain by only collecting the self-serving, and comfortable narratives that fit our own worldview.

    “Been there, done that!” we tell ourselves.

    Funny how we are all a-Twitter and full of ourselves about about big data, evidence-based practice, outcomes, log-frames, and all of our rational empiricist accessories of the day, but fail miserably at the art of listening.

    As a manifesto – Time to Listen asks us to first learn how to listen so that we can make it central to our work, relationships, and visions for changing the world.


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