To Learn, You Must Listen: What Brings and Binds People Together?

Over the course of this semester, the idea of changing ourselves has been a constant weight on everyone. In the height of a pandemic we all have had too much time alone, stuck with our own thoughts. What is wrong? Why do I feel this way? What will make it better? However, change is not limited to our individual selves. We change to become more empathetic; to become better students. Outside the classroom, change and continuous learning allow us to be activists and push equality. The idea is to genuinely care about each other’s experiences in order to reflect on them. Genuine care means to listen and empathize with others; to provide productive feedback and relate through understanding. If we do not understand, then we must continue to listen and hear each other out.

  In ENGL431, the push to change in order to grow with our peers has been emphasized immensely. Through our thinkING and reading Octavia Butler, I have learned a lot about myself. I have learned that change does not come easy. We all theoretically want to change for the better, but obstacles and features of ourselves may prohibit us from quick reactions to new environments. The biggest one I have noticed is the lack of human connection. Gone are the days of going out and seeing strangers, shooting a smile at people or a friendly wave. Now days are filled with silent working and dystopian-esque virtual discussions.  I would not say we have been stuck with constraints in ENGL431 — we have been graced with reminders and motivated by deadlines. We must learn how to push past these difficulties in order to change and become better without the reminders and the caring that is reinforced constantly in class conversations and discussion posts.One needs experiences to reflect on in order to truly grow. To do this, we must not only change ourselves to be more compassionate and empathetic, but we must also listen to the people around us. Our own responsibilities come from how we interact with people and how the individual self must care for others and themselves.

At the beginning of the semester, I remember our very first PadLet post on what it means to bring and bind people together. I can vividly see how eager everyone was to type, to say they knew what the answer was. It is interesting that we all do understand what it means to bring people together, but it feels more divided and distant now than ever before. This goes to show exactly how difficult the growth for ourselves truly is. Octavia Butler’s series compiled in Lilith’s Brood focuses heavily on how connection among one another creates a sense of stability that promotes a positive change through learning and understanding experiences. Let us not forget that change is not always in our benefit — we must create a safe environment that promotes our growth in change, not our downfall. In turn, this will create a positive outlet to learn from others. Dawn, the first novel of the series, begins with Lilith experiencing her third Awakening, alone and confused. Discovering that her consent and compassion have been ripped from her, she feels withdrawn and alone. I can relate to Lilith here — this semester I contracted COVID-19 from my mother. I felt confused, alone, and very similar to how Lilith describes trying to piece together her reality in the opening moments of the novel. These events and experiences can be scary, and can make us want to run and forget. However, we cannot. As we have heavily mentioned in the course, we must rather  “run and learn.” We have to take these experiences in order to listen and talk with others. To share emotions and educate each other and ourselves creates an understanding that promotes change. When these are stripped from us, or we are suddenly seen as different, we lose our ability to change. Once the compassion is gone, there is fear instilled and we become so insulated with ourselves that we lose a sense of individuality.

“His words bit more deeply into her than she let him see. With all the questioning and testing she had gone through, the two and a half years of round-the-clock observation–the Oankali must know her in some ways better than any human being…Of course they knew she had certain practical experiences they considered important”  

Butler. Lilith’s Brood. 91-92

Lilith, here, is describing how she has been treated much more like a test patient than an individual here. She feels alone and vulnerable; but it is important to note that the Oankali still consider her own experiences as something of importance. However, the issue is that experiences are being ripped from Lilith for the Oankali benefit; this is wrong. Her ability to bear a child is considered to be the only  This is not bringing and binding people together — this is using people and creating a hierarchy over them. That is why it is not enough to change ourselves to be open to other people’s experience, we must also genuinely listen and care. If the compassion is lacking, we begin to harm.

Harm and care are both very relevant topics not only in society right now, but also in ENGL431. Our care and good faith in others allows us to create the positive environment for change that was mentioned previously. This semester, I’ve learned that when you personally failed to encounter these things, it may seem helpless and worthless when you can see a disregard for care. I believe that our course is set up in nature to practice good faith, however when it is apparent someone has taken thoughts and ideas from others rather than expand on them, the change may be negative to the individual who has been discouraged. This discouragement leads to distrust, which we can see in Butler’s “The Training Floor” from Dawn. Distrust towards Lilith is prevalent amongst the Oankali; the spread of disinformation about humans makes them unsure of her. As the disinformation spreads and Lilith is treated similarly to an outsider; she becomes discouraged when trying to help unite the Oankali. I find that is important to note that although we need a positive environment to grow, we also need to allow individuals to have their own experiences. 

“They’ll cut the trees down, you know,’ she said softly. ‘They’ll make boats or rafts. They think they’re on Earth.’

‘Some of them believe otherwise,’’ Nikanj told her. ‘They believe because you do.’

‘That won’t stop the boat building.’

‘No. We won’t try to stop it”

Butler. Lilith’s Brood. 200

This conversation resonated with me because I do think that spreading knowledge amongst each other is the key to bringing people together. However, individuals have the urge to discover things for themselves. Our curiosity is quite literally one of our most dangerous traits. This does not take away from care; rather it creates a careful environment in which others are free to have their own journeys and battles in order to learn from what they’ve done. In the textual case, the result is failure and that is okay. In life, some of the experiences we take lead to better ones. We must allow risks to be taken and not place limitations on each other. If we were to just copy and paste what people tell us, we fail ourselves. However, to avoid harm, we must remember that not everything has to come from experience. Lilith mentions this idea of experience in Adulthood Rites. “I was a city person, too, but there were some things I was willing not to learn from experience” (282). We must use our own reasoning to decide whether experiences and risks are worth taking.  Learning from one another does not mean depending on another person to tell us the answers. It is rather to take their understanding and use it in our benefit to promote positive change. We must genuinely care about each other and respect each other as individuals in order to promote positive changes. 

I, honestly, have failed myself in preparing for change. Or, rather, I have become aware that I have not done enough to promote positive change this semester. These actions have not gone to waste nor have they been unnoticed. I would say I am pretty compassionate, even maybe an empath. As a white, cisgendered woman, I have been more willing to listen to others experiences in order to understand and be an activist. However, I have not done enough for myself. Much like the humans building boats to row to the end of the environment in Dawn, I have experienced failures that I can change to finish strongly in my career as an Undergraduate student next semester. Reading Adulthood Rites, I was struck by the rules Wray explains to Tino. 

“You can do as you please here. As long as you don’t hurt anyone, you can stay or go as you like; you can choose your own friends, your own lovers. No one has the right to demand anything from you that you don’t want to give”

Butler. Lilith’s Brood. 286.

As I read this again, I sit and resonate on it. As students, we don’t have this option. I feel demands have been at an all time high — not in this course specifically, but I have seen more than enough students post or discuss they have been figuratively drowning this semester, whether it’s in schoolwork or personal life. I believe that this is what has contributed to my lack of change this semester, but has contributed to set me up to prepare for change as we enter a new semester. I do not want to discredit the demands put, however. Responsibilities are not an excuse for our lack of change, yet they can be lumped with the obstacles we face that may make our preparation delayed. Balance is not easy, but it is important. We all have our own individual steps to take in order to become our best selves and in turn listen and give advice to others.

Life is not fulfilled without the influence of others. In order to bring people together, especially in a time of widespread divide, we must better ourselves and be willing to share and listen to each other. This pushes past just listening to friends and family. It is also important to understand each other’s limitations and walls. We must listen to others’ experiences in order to better ourselves to help others down the road. As we wrap up this semester and year, there is one thing to always remember,

No one has the right to demand anything from you that you don’t want to give

We’re All Struggling Right Now: A Goal-Setting Essay

First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not….Habit is persistence in practice. Forget talent. If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent.”–Octavia Butler, “Furor Scribendi”

This epigraph, along with the nature of ENGL431: Conversations: Octavia Butler & Social Ties with Beth McCoy, leads us to create habits of thinkING about our work rather than relying on the ‘talent’ of essay writing. Although I am thankful for the English department being so strong at Geneseo, it is easy to fall into the idea that peers are smarter or more talented than myself. I’m sure everyone has felt this in some aspect of their life; if not the major, a hobby or a skill. It is so easy to just give up. What I am learning, maybe later than I’d wish but not too late, is that creating a habit is just as easy as quitting. Instead of being discouraged, we are encouraged in our class to just continue. Practice. Think. ThinkING. Talent is not a continuous process. I believe that the epigraph reminds us that practicing something everyday is more important than hoping to be good at something. If we were to only trust our initial strengths, we would never grow and learn new things. If we only waited for inspiration to write, our words may never see light. We would never change — a quality that we have been witness to as being very dangerous. We should also remind ourselves we do have talents; but instead of relying on them we must share them with others. This is essential to bringing people together. By observing and learning from each other we can strengthen both our own expertise and our relationships with the people around us. 

    I am acknowledging here that as I am writing this essay on continuing to grow and learn I’m turning this in late. More than late. It is incredibly difficult in this global pandemic to continue to find motivation. If you’re reading this, please try to keep going. Keep the thinkING going. If not for you reading this, for myself. It is not our time to give up yet. 

Learn and Run!” From Octavia Butler’s Dawn

Another epigraph that has been presented in the syllabus of our course. Similar to the previously mentioned epigraph, Butler is expressing that we must take what we learn and apply it to our life. Create that habit mentioned prior. Continue the thinkING that is pushed. It is not enough for us to learn and keep this knowledge stored. We all can learn so much from each other. Learning is never limited to the classroom. This is apparent in Dawn when Lilith is forced to learn and run. She must learn from a new alien planet after her world is ruined and literally keep going. Easier said than done, using knowledge to connect with others is one of the greatest ways that humans can find a relationship. We should not only allow ourselves to educate each other, but be willing to listen to others when they want to teach us something new, even if it is indirectly. 

“I chose a spot near the river. There I prepared the seed to go into the ground. I gave it a thick, nutritious coating, then brought it out of my body  through my right sensory hand. I planted it deep in the rich soil of the riverbank. Seconds after I had expelled it, I felt it begin the tiny positioning movements of independent life.” -Octavia Butler, Imago

This epigraph, the third and final one, is the one that sticks with me most. I quite literally used to go to a spot near a creek in my childhood to get away from the then-stress; if only I could revisit this spot now in a time of stress among us all. I believe here that the seed is strength. We have to tell ourselves that we will get stronger. However, we have to treat our minds like a seed. We grow with nourishment — in this case knowledge — and time. People famously say that life is short, but life is quite literally the longest event we will ever endure. True change, true learning, and getting better all take time. When we try to rush these things we become obsessed with stress and overwhelm ourselves in an effort to get by. This has been the ultimate struggle for me. It circles back to the idea of habit; a continuation of the self care we need. Small changes in the beginning can make us feel better instantly. Think about it — a bedroom looks so much cleaner after just making the bed. We all can start a journey to a better self by making the smallest changes in our habits. Make productivity and happiness an every day routine. 

This semester, my goal is to make it. The end is so incredibly close; it is not time to give up. Every day is another battle, another due date. I want to be able to say that my last real semester here was still a good one in spite of the pandemic.

If anyone is reading this — I hope you can soon find the motivation and strength. If you’re doing well, keep going. We’ll get there soon.