They might sound like they’re struggling to describe their new project. But Aaron & Dale’s vision is clear: To listen with love and respond in love. Listen to this episode here.
“It took a quarantine and a pandemic to make this first episode happen,” says Aaron Hendry, Youth Development Worker and creator of the blog, When Lambs Are Silent. “Welcome to the show! It’s our first podcast, so hit us up in the comments later, teach us where we’re wrong — we’re still learning.”
Speaking of learning, Aaron is joined by Dale Norris, who is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Information Science at AUT. “I’m about halfway at the moment,” he says, “but the way things are going with the whole COVID-19 thing, it might be another two years, I dunno.”
Dale points out that blogs are “actually really difficult to do”. But these young dads love a good challenge, and they value commitment. It’s been almost three years since Aaron started ‘When Lambs Are Silent’ and his vision remains focused: To counter the privileged voices that talk over and talk about some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
“In the work I do, I see the reality of what happens for a lot of our whanau in the community,” says Aaron. “And I hear on the radio, one of our well-loved radio presenters for example, giving his take on people on the benefit and what they needed to do to get off the benefit. And I just thought for a minute — why have we got people that are completely removed from what’s happening to our whanau, why are they the ones setting the narrative for our whanau?”
With the WLAS blog and now the podcast, Aaron and Dale’s goal is to share experiences and perspectives “from whanau themselves and share their realities, so they can have a voice into the national dialogue”.
WLAS is a space to go past the politics and theology and see the person first. “One of our beliefs, and in fact one of our hashtags, is #ToListenIsToLove,” says Aaron. “Through listening to a person, they stop being just a stereotype, and we actually encounter who the person is and see the real effect some of our systems have on our people.”
Both Aaron and Dale have had their personal beliefs challenged, and they are grateful for it. “I love when my perspective is changed by getting to know someone,” says Dale. “Hopefully through this podcast people’s stories can get a bit more depth. You can listen to more, and just through questions unpack things. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most.”
Dale also recognizes some of the immediate challenges of creating an online space. “That comment section can get pretty hectic, pretty quickly,” he says. But Aaron is hopeful that they’ll be able to encourage healthy dialogue. “Regardless of where in society you sit, whether your beliefs are “left” or “right”, we struggle to disagree with one another, or even engage with one another without dehumanizing them or just writing them off due to one disagreement,” Aaron observes. “But we have to have meaningful, hard conversations, with the hope of working towards unity and healing and redemption for all people.”
“When I think of the way my perspective has changed so much in my life, it’s always been through that encounter, and through actually listening to someone’s stories,” says Aaron, and Dale agrees: “I’ve been listening to quite a few people on YouTube just telling their story. Nothing more. Just a small intro about who they are, their current situation, and they say what took them to where they are now, and it’s really really powerful.”
Neither of them denies that this kind of powerful change can be hard. “Sometimes it feels like a personal attack,” observes Aaron. “Our defensive walls can come up, and I get that. But it’s about leaning into that discomfort.”
Looking back, Aaron realizes that when he first got into youth development work about ten years ago, he had a very different idea of what it meant to be poor in New Zealand, what it meant to be homeless, what it meant to be Māori. “As I met with people who were courageous enough to tell me their stories, I had to push down that defensive attack mode or flight mode and just listen. That’s changed my view, and it’s changed my perspective. I’ve been able to see the world in a way that I’ve never seen before.”
Dale hopes that everyone who listens to WLAS: The Podcast, and decides to come along this journey, is willing to engage in a dialogue. A leader that comes to Aaron’s mind is Martin Luther King: “He talked about love being at the centre, that even though we’re resisting oppressive regimes or systems that are harming people, we’re doing it out of love for both the oppressor and the oppressed. We recognize the humanity of both.”
“It’s a lot to get through,” says Dale, “But that’s the vision. So everyone can get on board. We’re always keeping love at the forefront, to listen with love and respond in love.”
Listen to this episode here. Or click here to find us on your favourite podcasting app.