If you want to make a difference in the lives of others, learn to listen with an open heart. That’s something I repeat to myself daily. As someone who’s felt a call to serve for as long as I can remember, what I’ve learned is that while it feels incredible to give, real impact is made when you take yourself out of the equation and listen to the person standing in front of you.
That’s not to diminish the power of giving for the giver. What saints have said for centuries is increasingly backed by modern science. From measurable changes in brain chemistry and hormone production to lower stress levels, giving is good for everyone. Shifting your approach and listening with an open heart can take things from good to great.
It’s a unique way to listen to the person in front of you, and to do so without a personal agenda, a need to fix, judge or give advice. To open not just ears, but mind and heart, and hold a safe space for them to share what’s going on in their lives.
If you’ve never really listened this way, it can feel a little odd at first, even uncomfortable. But like anything else, practice makes progress and before long, you start to notice major shifts in every interaction. Often, personal challenges are shared, and sometimes an opportunity for the listener to be of greater service arises.
Years ago, I founded an organization called Good Eats to feed elementary school children on the weekends who otherwise would go hungry. Monday through Friday, they eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the school. On the weekends, they don’t eat.
While there are a great number of other programs that could be launched to “help” the people we serve, we’ve been able to identify the most impactful extensions of Good Eats by listening. It allowed us to see with crystal clarity that for the families of the children in our program, the last week of the month is always the hardest. It’s when the paycheck or assistance has run thin or completely out.
If the individual has any money left, they’re often faced with the dilemma of buying food or paying bills. Occasionally, they’re faced with dangerous and potentially disastrous decisions.
Imagine this: it’s Wednesday night. Your 6-year-old daughter walks into the kitchen asking for something to eat. Not a sugary snack, but dinner. And there’s no food in the house. What would you be willing to do to get her something to eat?
Listening with an open heart led us to launch a program called Bridge Bags, which gives families a week’s worth of groceries during the last week of every month. Its direct impact is informed by the needs of individuals. There’s no saving or fixing, because no one is broken. There’s simply service in a space of need that was discovered because we asked the right questions and then just listened. The next steps become obvious and often simple.
Good Eats has expanded Bridge Bags to the East End, where we’ll be inviting families to get their week’s worth of groceries. Amber Waves Farm in Amagansett will be acting as our distribution location.
There’s no shortage of need in the world. But if you listen to yourself first, you’ll hear the call of what matters most to you and can then turn that light outward.
You don’t have to make a million to make a difference, and sainthood is not required to be of service. Just open your heart, listen—and direct your actions accordingly, with love and intention. goodeatsprogram.org