Volunteer Blog: Listening

The Lost Art of Listening by Catherine Dunn, VS volunteer

The most striking thing I have observed during my time volunteering with Venture Scotland is the power of listening. In the liberating backdrop of the outdoors, I have experienced the profound honesty, the heartfelt stories, the darkest moments and the overwhelming gratitude of the young people at Venture Scotland. I have never asked or inquired as to how these peoples’ lives have led them to where they are. Yet as I spend more time with them, be it jumping off cliffs into the sea, climbing at the local crags or hiking over mountains, they speak to me and I listen. In such a dynamic and noisy world where society demands bold, empowered and confident voices, the power of listening is often drowned out. As Ernest Hemingway so succinctly put it “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen”. It is this value that I have encountered so effectively at Venture Scotland.

I came into Venture Scotland a postgraduate university student on my placement and was keen to learn how they used the outdoors to such powerful ends with vulnerable young people. Indeed, the incredible landscapes and environments Scotland has to offer provide the perfect backdrop for personal development, be it sunny beaches or snow-capped mountains. Yet it was the moments amongst the summits, the leaps of faith and the top outs that proved most profound to me; it was listening to a woman slowly pick apart the reasons she felt so anxious, it was listening to a man explain his hopes and dreams and how he felt like they would never be attainable, it was listening a young woman tell me where she had come from and how proud she was to have made it to the end of the Venture Scotland programme. 

One of the most powerful moments as a volunteer so far was listening to a young woman I’d worked with for four months read out the speech she had written for the programme finale on the top of a cliff on the Fife coast, calmly and eloquently telling the world how she had got to where she was. I watched on, immersed in the sense of total liberation the endless horizon of the ocean had offered her and listened, completely. The waves lapped at the rocks beneath her as she stood proudly speaking out on every time she’d struggled, every time she’d felt unable to continue and every time she’d hit rock bottom. Yet there she was, standing atop her cliff, peering over the edge at rock bottom and smiling the smile of someone who knew their life was heading in an exciting direction; a wonderfully poignant reflection of her journey with Venture Scotland.

This has been by far my most memorable moment since I started volunteering. It represents the culmination of all the hard work undertaken by staff and volunteers at Venture Scotland and reflects the reciprocity of trust, honesty and empathy at the heart of the programme. As a volunteer, to me it demonstrated the profound power of listening in a world which seems to have forgotten how.