I had the pleasure of listening to Melinda Gates last week as she talked about her new book, The Moment of Lift, (Flatiron Books, April 23, 2019) at the Philadelphia Free Library. Author John Green interviewed her, using his sense of humor to lighten the serious nature of Melinda’s message. Topics included marriage, empowering females around the globe–especially in places with extreme poverty such as India and many African nations–increasing STEM education in schools, and drawing more females toward STEM careers. Everything she said resonated with me, yet I wish she had spent more time talking about education since that is my passion. I do know that the Gates Foundation does so much for education, but the stories this night had a different focus altogether.
What really stuck with me was her advice to listen carefully when offering help. When she traveled to villages in remote places to see that children were immunized, she often heard women ask, “but what about my health?” They would point out to her that while it was super nice to save their children with immunizations, what about their next child, and the next, and then the toll upon their own health and the high risk of death from childbirth, among other things? It took years for her to really listen, to really hear that message, Melinda admitted, in part because it rubbed against her Catholic beliefs about birth control. Truthfully, she and Bill had used birth control, she said, so she began to awaken to the pleas for help she kept hearing from women in developing countries. Eventually, not only did she realize that too many women (and girls) were dying during childbirth, she also realized that giving women power over their reproductive health solved many societal problems. Now, providing family planning education and contraceptives to women is an important mission for Melinda.
She gave a second example of listening carefully when she visited another remote village with one set of intentions for assisting its development only to discover–through listening to the community members–that nothing could be fixed until wife beating stopped. So, even though that wasn’t initially on her agenda, it became the primary focus for assisting that community. One solution village men agreed upon was that when they heard a man in a neighboring hut beating his wife, they would go there to stop it. Eventually the small village healed from its abusiveness, at which time other programs for its development could begin.
These are just two of the stories Melinda told at the Philly Free Library that night, and there are many more in her new book, The Moment of Lift. As soon as I return home from my Philadelphia trip, I will begin reading her book. Afterward, I will pass it to my husband to read upon her and John Green’s recommendation. They both agreed: If we are to create gender equity in our world, then both women and men need to hear these stories.
I left the library so inspired, and yet I wondered if gender equity, world peace, and so on, could be as easy as just improving our listening skills. Could the people of the world rise above hatred, injustice, racism, and divisiveness if we all just listened to each other better? What do you think? Do you plan on reading The Moment of Lift? Furthermore, how could listening carefully be used to help change the direction of American education? Who do we need to listen to? I’d love to hear your comments below.