Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Listen Carefully

It's been quiet around here.  For the past two months I've thought about this blog, and what to write, and when to write.  The perfect storm of inspiration and free time just never happened.  And truth is, the real world's got me down.

I'm not a news junkie.  At all.  I used to be a faithful morning news watcher.  Every day before work I would eat breakfast, sip my coffee and listen to 30-40 minutes of the morning news.  And then I had kids.  You know how that goes. I'm busy, but I'm also not keen on having my kids watch the very worst of humanity parading across the TV screen every morning.  So I shut it off and never looked back.

These days, I skim NPR articles online, follow political candidates on Twitter, or click through if an interesting story pops up on my Facebook news feed.  That's my news.  Usually it's enough to keep me semi-informed.  I can dig deeper into the stories that I need to know about and scroll through the garbage. But lately even the headline skimming has got me down.

Mass shootings.  Political debates.  Racial profiling.  Police violence.  Terrorist attacks.

It's enough to make you want to hide in a hole.

So that's basically what I did.  I made myself a quiet little hole and suffocated in silence because I didn't feel like I had anything important to say.

Nothing I could say would bring back those Dallas Police Officers.  Or the Pulse Nightclub patrons.  Or the shoppers at the Munich mall. No cute little blog post would make this political season any more palatable.  Or make our voting decisions any less gut wrenching come November.  Anything that spurred me to write felt trivial in these heavy times.

And so I've said nothing.  That's not to say that I've been doing nothing.  What I've been doing a lot more of these past two months is listening.  Really listening.  I've tried to hear the voices of the Black Lives Matter movement.  I've explored the complexity of emotion that law enforcement brings to each civilian encounter in this era of bold violence.  I've listened to members of the LGBT community talk about living with fierce hope and deep fear.  I've asked questions of gun owners (even the one in my own home) and tried to understand their perspective without initiating debate.

Just listening.  Not arguing or debating or judging.  Listening.

All that listening is work.  Hard work.  And, I believe, important work.

This two months of deliberate listening has broadened my perspective in some important ways.  I have come to understand that much, or maybe all, of what drives these big headline issues is one simple, and very old problem.


People of color are fearing for their lives when they get pulled over for an expired registration tag.  Police officers are fearing for their lives in the most banal interactions with the public. Gay people are fearing for their lives when they display affection with their partner in public.  And gun owners are fearing for their lives because the world has gone crazy and the government will not protect them. 

Maybe you can relate to one of these statements.  Or maybe you think it's all bogus, unfounded fear and everyone needs to just chill out.  The point is not for us to pass judgement on the fear.  The point is that people, our fellow humans, are experiencing these very real feelings in the United States of America.  This is their story, their reality, their truth, regardless if you agree with it or not.

I don't pretend to understand what it means to be a black man or a police officer in this country.  That's not my story.  I don't know that I'll ever truly understand that story because my reality is miles away from that plot line.  But I can listen.  I can hear the stories of pain, fear, anger, and brokenness and honor them as genuine.  Even if it doesn't make sense.  Even if it seems hard to believe.  Even if I've never witnessed the difficulty or danger myself....I can listen and come to know a piece of that experience.  I can honor their reality.  It is legitimate.  It is their experience.  To pretend it doesn't exist or it isn't a problem is just a sugar-coated, covert form of hatred. 

I recently read a perspective-altering book by Bryan Stevenson called Just Mercy.  I also had the opportunity to hear the author speak at Chico State a few months ago.  In his speech to this captive audience, the author suggested that we can change the world by getting proximal.  Change the world!  By getting close and working to truly hear the stories of our neighbors, we can begin to understand and build bridges.  Assumptions and judgement become much more difficult when we are close.  When we build understanding.  When we attempt to know each other.  Really know.

So, what in the world does this listening look like?  It looks like really reading a story and not just skimming it to find pieces to support your own perspective.  It means seeking out alternative news sources that offer different angles or speak to different audiences.  It could involve fitting some diversity into your social media news feeds by following an LGBT group or a Muslim Mosque on Facebook to hear what their conversation sounds like.  It could mean engaging in conversations with real people with the sole agenda of listening to gain understanding.

When we disagree or misunderstand, often our first instinct is fight or flight.  What if we used  disagreement as an opportunity to lean in closer and say, "Tell me more"? It is much more difficult to fear or hate our enemies when they are no longer the unknown "them", but the very real human being with a true story.

More listening.  More love. 

That is all.

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