My friend Dr Rachel Pinney, whom I mentioned in a blog over in the arena, was another of the remarkable women I have known. [I have known some remarkable men, too, and may get around to blogging about them sometime.] She invented the technique of “Creative Listening”, which was a method intended to circumvent the usual shallow inattentiveness of so many conversations, and to prompt the participants to start really hearing each other.
The unique feature of Creative Listening is that you practise it with someone who has a point of view opposed to yours and who agrees that while one of you explains their position as fully and clearly as possible, the other undertakes not to argue or to answer back, and only to interrupt if there is something they don’t understand which needs clarifying.
Dr Pinney was a Quaker and an ardent anti-nuclear weapons campaigner. She accordingly used her method primarily to engage with supporters of nuclear weapons. However, she also realised that it could be applied to many other topics, and one day she suggested to me that we should apply it to homosexual law reform. This was in the 1960s, when the Wolfenden Report’s proposals that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should be decriminalised were being widely debated in parliament and the press, and so the subject was more in the public’s awareness than it had previously been.
So on a warm summer’s evening Dr Pinney and I set out from Earls Court Station to hear what we could get passers-by to say about homosexuality. It was, in fact, Dr Pinney’s first ‘Listen’ in
But hostile talkers proved difficult to find, despite Dr Pinney’s winningly persuasive sales pitch. Marching up to front door bells or accosting ladies tending their front gardens, she would explain that she had been touring Britain Listening for Peace, but ‘tonight’ [emphasised in a delightfully ‘you are especially privileged’ tone of voice] – “tonight I am Listening on homosexual law reform!” A few of those thus addressed hastily bade us good evening, looking as if they consigned us to the depths of depravity. But most of them never batted a eyelid at the dread word, smiling as unconcernedly as if we had been selling washing powder or canvassing for local council elections.
As most were on our side, Dr Pinney varied her routine with Listening on the Bomb, which gave her all her longest Listens that evening. We encountered only one forthright opponent, and he predictably said he was not prepared to discuss homosexuality in the street [or, I suspected, anywhere else]. When pressed by Dr Pinney to give a reason, he replied: “I was forty years in the Navy, madam, and that’s quite good enough reason. Good day to you!”
Our most informative Listen was with a taxi driver at West London Airport Terminal. As soon as Dr Pinney announced her topic, he waxed voluble. “Yes”, he said, “me and my mates know all about these homosexuals. Some of them are alright, perhaps. I know some quite well-known people who are that way – and a few may be born like it. But for most of them, it’s just something they do for an extra sensation. There’s none in the working classes, of course.” [The working classes, presumably, not providing many late night taxi fares.] His main grudge appeared to be that ‘these homosexuals’ had led to the closing down of nearly all the overnight public conveniences which he and his mates used for more orthodox purposes.
It was an instructive and entertaining evening, but one I didn’t repeat. Dr Pinney carried on Listening for Peace, which eventually took her to Red Square in