What we focus on, we often find


Several years ago, as my focus began shifting a little more toward a professional life, I became a transcriptionist. Initially, I was an independent contractor, with my pay based on my personal speed and accuracy. Later, I completed transcription for research projects at Washington State University. While my initial goal was to use some rather dormant professional skills to contribute to the family income, I found some unexpected joy in the work that helped me through the next few years.

When I am transcribing, I am listening more carefully than I can ever manage to listen to normal conversations. With headphones that cancel out the noise around me, I am laser focused on the words of the interview or focus group I am typing. I won’t pretend that every recording I completed had an equal impact, but sometimes the listening had a profound effect on my mindset. I felt a closeness to — and pride in — many people I would likely never meet.

Over the years, I listened to researchers, educators, farmers, professionals, motivational speakers, pastors, coaches, hunters, members of indigenous groups and experts in a variety of fields. As I typed their words, what I often felt most distinctly was their passion and commitment. Individuals shared their thoughts on programs, projects, struggles and accomplishments, which usually held deep meaning for them. Often, the impact of their efforts was limited to less than 50 people, but that fact did not slow them in their heartfelt work.

Though I would be considered an efficient transcriber, it typically takes four hours to complete transcription for each recorded hour of audio. For most projects, this meant I would spend five hours per day for several weeks listening to people exploring topics they sincerely cared about. With each deep dive into a topic, I found myself thinking through the complexities of the issues during my free time. Since I was bound by terms of confidentiality for each project, most of my reflection was solitary.

Over time, I was able to see why the transcription process and subsequent mental energy was so positive for me. All around me, I was noticing a growing division between people, related to political views and policies. More than any other time in my life, I was aware of interpersonal conflicts arising, and divisive stories filling the news. However, each time I focused my attention on these passionate people describing programs they were devoting their life’s work to, my faith in humanity felt literally restored.

Things have not improved much, in terms of the national and local political climate. Since starting graduate school, I have not worked on another transcription project until this week. I had the opportunity to interview a community member about her involvement in creating and implementing a fantastic local outdoor education program. As she described her motivation, her goals, and the positive outcomes she was seeing, I felt that warmth in my heart increasing again.

Individuals are devoting their lives to positive causes every day, and we can ask them to share. When we take a genuine interest in others, we build relationships, strengthen trust, and we can also benefit personally. Cynicism and pessimism creep in all too quickly when we focus on some of the most sensational headlines. To escape those feelings — if only temporarily — we simply need to ask our neighbors about what they have been spending their time on.

Even when a topic is not of intense interest to us, we can listen to the passion and positive energy being put into something good. An individual does not need to make national news to have a dramatic impact on the lives of others. Small efforts from the humans all around us contribute to our diverse and thriving community on the Palouse. We can regain our optimism and faith in each other if we make the effort to listen with genuine interest and intention.

Palmer is a doctoral student at the University of Idaho. A Moscow resident since 2012, she enjoys life on the Palouse with her husband and four children. Palmer can be reached at palm1634@vandals.uidaho.edu.

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