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The Red Boot Way; Winona organization working to encourage intentional listening

January 25, 2018 GMT

A new movement is encouraging people to take a walk in another person’s shoes – boots in this case – by practicing intentional listening.

This new way of practicing intentional listening that arose in the last three years is called the “Red Boot Way,” a national organization with a local chapter in Winona.

Local community members meet every Saturday morning for 11 weeks for a guided discussion centered around a specific topic geared toward practicing intentional listening.

Lisa Gray, a local author, started the group around the same time Molly Barker founded the national organization in 2014.

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“I thought it was a really cool idea and wanted to help bring it to Winona,” Gray said. “Having a way to practice intentional listening is important, especially in today’s world.”

Barker developed 11 topics while working on a leadership project on Capitol Hill, where she realized many people’s communication skills (particularly with hot topics like politics, religion, race, and discrimination) lacked.

Red Boot topics range from empowerment, to compassion, to engagement, and they emphasize the “I” and the personal – “I am transparent,” “I am present,” “I am grounded.”

“The whole idea behind the experience is to create a safe space for people to have these kinds of deep conversations” with themselves and others, Gray said.

There’s a set of rules people abide by in the meetings, such as only talking in the first person and avoiding third person, saying “thank you for listening” at the end of each person’s statement, there will be awkward silences and that’s okay, and, most importantly, what’s said in Red Boot meetings stays in Red Boot meetings.

In its three years of existence in Winona, Gray has helped train 11 Red Boot guides and also expanded the conversations beyond the weekly Saturday meetings.

Gray also works with people in the local jails and schools as well.

“I go to La Crosse jail weekly and work with male inmates, I’ve offered them at (Winona) Middle School,” she said. “We’ve even recently started working with female inmates.”

In one instance six months ago at the jail, one of the inmates discussed something he thought might make others think he was crazy, and it ended up being the complete opposite. Gray said it’s moments like those that remind her what she’s doing is important.

She is also grateful that since bringing the Red Boot Way to Winona, Gray has been able to work with all ages of people, from 14 to 80.

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“I’ve had the great benefit of listening to people who are 14, 40, and 80,” she said. “Whether they’re retired, convicted felons, or adolescent teens.”

Even Gray, who has led meetings for three years, learns something new about herself or discovers something new related to improving her own intentional listening skills.

“It takes a lot of patience with this stuff,” she said. “I’ve had to learn to throw away the judgements I might have of other people.”

The group meets every Saturday morning at 9 a.m. at Blooming Grounds in downtown Winona. If you’d like to learn more about the Red Boot Way you can email Lisa Gray at lisa.graybookshelf@gmail.com.

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