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Photo: Sangay Sherpa, design: Inshra Russel.
Photo: Sangay Sherpa, design: Inshra Russel.

I often go to the woods to write. As I do so this time, a chill fills the air and the summery songs of the insects carry with them something that feels like desperation. The cicadas are almost all gone now; their slow crescendos no longer punctuate the lazy summer days. They’ve done their treetop breeding, and their eggs have been laid. Soon, they will die. When the cicada eggs hatch, the larva will burrow and feed on the roots of the trees in my forest. For the next 17 years, they will live below the ground.

I love the song of the cicada because it is so long in coming. Each brood spends so many years in silence that their hymn of emergence, ringing from the branches of the trees is a song of liberation and redemption. When the woods fall into wintry silence once again, they feel eerily dead, halloweenish and ghostly, as if the dictatorship of ice and snow has come to oppress the cacophony of the summer song.

Lately, I’ve begun a sort of emergence of my own, nourished by the heroes I’ve read about in the pages of bdnews24.com. Hopefully, my song of emergence will eventually become a book. My idea is to highlight 12 heroes I have discovered in my two years of writing this column and to attempt to live by their examples.

The very first hero I decided to emulate will be mountain climber and Women’s Rights advocate, Wasfia Nazreen.

* * *
I have written about Wasfia already this year, but her inspirational story merits more than a single article, and the lessons she has to teach the world are particularly germane in light of recent events.

A couple of weeks ago, a terrible movie about The Prophet came out. The talentless dolt who made the movie, a Coptic Egyptian, understood more about people who do not have a long history of freedom of speech than he knew about decency or filmmaking. The hatred he sparked is an emotion we Americans cannot muster after 200 years of saying whatever we want.

That’s because the more free speech a society allows, the less emotional impact any given speech has.

We in the West are muted by our free, incessant talking.

Here I am, a product of a society where radio personalities crowd the airwaves, where hundreds of articles, blogs, books and papers are published daily. Freedom of speech creates such a blizzard of words that those who want to be heard have to shock their audience just to keep them listening.

Quiet, intelligent thoughtful speech is buried by the sheer volume of the screamers. In some meaningful way, discourse has disappeared. And maybe that’s a sad sign that Americans no longer believe transformation through intelligent communication is possible.

Or maybe as a nation (or individual) grows older, it grows more frightened of the idea of transformation.

In Bangladesh, I have discovered that the exchange of ideas is livelier than it is here — the USA. I think this stems from the greater possibility that what you say in Bangladesh actually matters, and that someone will hear you and respond intelligently. Two hundred years ago, that was true in the US as well. Freedom of speech implied the existence of a serious listener.

So I ask myself — who, specifically, is an example of a serious listener?

The answer came to me as I looked at Wasfia Nazreen’s “Bangladesh On Seven Summits” Facebook page. At first, I didn’t quite understand the point of her mountain climbing. I mean, her tagline is “Women reaching heights,” but what did it all really mean? What wisdom was Wasfia trying to impart by climbing the highest peaks on all seven continents?

To find the answer, I looked at her website, http://bdon7summits.org/. I looked at the countless pictures she’s posted. Then it struck me. Her treks to the seven highest peaks on each continent not only promote a woman’s right to express herself, but they do something even more profound. They advocate for the right to be able to hear and to be transformed by the wisdom of others. Nazreen uses her celebrity to let you know, whoever you are, whatever your station, your words, your dreams your life is important to her.

Ironically, the protesters in the Muslim world, the rioters in the street, they do the same. The French cartoonist who created a series of blasphemous cartoons said, “When we print cartoons against Catholics, no one says anything.” That must be very frustrating. No one is listening because everyone is talking. The only ones who understand speech as potentially transformative are the ones who have so recently gained the right to speak that they’re still listening to each other. So what happens? A Frenchman publishes a cartoon, a Coptic creates a movie. The Western world yawns. In a negative way, these men reach out to the only people who are really listening, who will react. Once they get their reaction, even a negative one, especially a negative one, the Western world pays attention. They become famous. They get hits on YouTube. They sell papers.

In order for your American neighbour to hear what you’re saying, it seems, you have to say something incendiary to those people in the world who still think of speech as important. Across the world they react, and now your neighbour understands that you’ve said something, and you get your 15 minutes of fame.

So must we always create anger and discontent to get people to hear us?

No. We can climb a mountain.

Here’s the beauty in what Wasfia Nazreen has done: she creates her celebrity, climbs to the top of a pulpit where no one can hear her, and plants a flag. Unlike other celebrities and press hounds, she doesn’t shout “LISTEN TO ME!”

Instead, she says, “Listen to the dreams of your women, to your indigenous people, to your youth.”

Then, she sets the example by listening herself. I have seen so many pictures of her as I prepare my book, and, yes, in a handful she is in front of a microphone, but in so many more, she is part of the wide-eyed audience. She listens. She allows words to transform her.

The Seven Peaks project is, therefore, in my mind, a perfect way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Bangladesh, a country pretty much founded by a people longing for the right not just to speak — but also to be heard.

* * *
The woods are silent today. Perhaps the last cicada of summer has died in the summit of a pine tree, and the season has truly ended. It saddens me, but I know that if these insects were to sing all year long, their song would not be as sweet to my ears. I sit and listen to the world. I think about Wasfia’s cause, and I open my heart and allow the voices of the sisters and the daughters of Bangladesh not just to be heard but to be trusted. The powerful, transformative wisdom of their dreams may not be the stuff of front-page news, but, thanks to Wasfia, they are being proclaimed from the loftiest pulpits on the planet.

We men would all do well to turn to the woman at our side and listen. Not only listen, but value the woman’s dreams, and encourage her to scale her own personal summits.

Then, let her climb, and cheer her exploits from the silent, lofty places in our soul.

Frank Domenico Cipriani writes a weekly column in the Riverside Signal called “You Think What You Think And I’ll Think What I Know.” He is also the founder and CEO of The Gatherer Institute — a not-for-profit public charity dedicated to promoting respect for the environment and empowering individuals to become self-taught and self-sufficient. His most recent book, “Learning Little Hawk’s Way of Storytelling”, teaches the native art of oral tradition storytelling.

8 Responses to “The freedom to listen”

  1. Golam Arshad

    Yes Frank, you are right. Shoot for the Star, you will at least end up getting the beaming MOON!

  2. russel

    Frank: I really think it positively when someone like you feel proud of our achievements. Thanks for the many admiring words that you used in the article.


    Frank: What a sweet, soft note in somnolence. In praise of “Reaching wonder heights”, all in praise and appreciation to Wasfia, the ICON, who scaled heights, broken barriers and etched, “You Can Do it”. It reminded me of Robert Frost, ” The Woods are Dark and Green…. I have Promises to Keep… miles to go before I sleep”Frank in the moving terrain of Life, glories, in all Heroism, shines and lives on.Put life in word, and the carpet of magic will uncork the in genie in sparkling light and tune. Good job my friend.. the poesy in words of distinction, tickle thought and tinkle dream will heave and bloom for ever, and for ever.

    • Frank Domenico Cipriani

      Also, in the words of Robert Frost, my friend, “two roads diverged in the woods. I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference.”

      Your letter is inspiring to me. I hope my words can uncork a genie. Let us heed the words of this wonderful hero, and support her on her journeys.

  4. Sixth Sense

    “….a country pretty much founded by a people longing for the right not just to speak–but also to be heard.”

    Thank you very much, Mr. Cipriani, for the kind words which will surely inspire many Bangladeshis — young and old,who prefer to suffer silently.

    • Frank Domenico Cipriani

      You make a very important point. Before one decides that it is noble to suffer silently, one must consider that it might be more a question of fear than of nobility.

      If you are one of those people who keep your dreams to yourself, please consider- this is never a good idea.
      I believe that God gives us big dreams by which to guide our lives, and to deny them is to deny the belief that He guides and inspires us. Just because you might be a woman does not mean that God has any less of a splendid plan in store for you. As my grandmother always used to say, Sic Itur ad astra! Always, toward the stars!!

      • Sixth Sense

        Thanks. Most of the Bangladeshis, irrespective of ages, prefer to suffer silently because of fear.
        May be,they will overcome this fear factor one day. May be,very soon.
        By the by, it must be made clear here that I am not one of those people you have mentioned! I always like to speak out loudly and want equally to be heard.
        Your grandmother is surely an imaginative and wise lady who has shown you the way that leads to the stars. I have not seen my grandmothers. I wish, I had.
        Although you have got my gender wrong, yet I agree that our creator has splendid plans in store for everyone — male or female!!

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