Time to Listen

I sort of gave up blogging for a while (could you tell?) for reasons that seem self-pitying when I say them out loud. Other people have more erudite and entertaining things to say about books and reading and literacy and the Arts and all that. They have bigger audiences, too. The Internet is just so loud, you know? So many voices, so many words.Why add to the cacophony? I was interested in what other people were saying. I wanted to learn more about what they thought. I stopped talking so much, and started listening and reading more.

While I was not blogging, I noticed a lot of people are experiencing terrible things. Perhaps you have noticed this, too–ISIL, refugees, shooting tragedies.  It’s like there’s this Club of Sorrows, and we’re watching people get inducted en masse. Except it’s not a club, it’s just humanity, and while it is happening to a lot of people, it is happening on an individual level. One person made a choice, and another person made a choice, and another person, and another person, and now there’s blood and bombs everywhere, and it feels sooooo big, like, “Who is even in charge here?” These tragedies, they feel bigger than us, but the fact is, they are made of us. We are the victim and the violent both.

There are plenty of people experiencing more quotidian cruelties, too. Poor health, loneliness, poverty, relationship dysfunction– these are real, painful problems as well, even if they are more common. I’ve heard a lot of crying this year.

I’ve been watching our trainwreck political year, too. I can’t blame anyone but myself for this, and neither can you. The kind of rhetoric that has led us to this point first creates, then disdains, then demonizes a political Other, and we have all engaged in this. Gleefully. Vindictively. My six year old knows it’s unkind to call people names. My six year old knows it is not ok to make people feel bad about themselves. Why is it so easy for us adults to conditionalize these rules? If someone is an awful person (whatever that means), and you call them one, you’ve just made yourself an awful person, too, because now you are a person who calls people names. When people are wrong, when people are participating in morally reprehensible things, I think it’s entirely appropriate to speak up. In fact, I think it is one’s moral obligation. Part of being a good human means easing and preventing human suffering, and in protecting the weak, and standing up to injustice. This does not require being unjust ourselves, however, or unkind.

It is unkind, you know, to label and to dismiss each other. Even if I find my neighbor’s political opinions deeply offensive, I still have to live next to her.  I can live next door while hating her, of course, but what does that really do for me? I believe I’ve been cautioned about hating my neighbor, actually, and I know I can’t love her if I’m busy calling her names. Instead, I have tried to ask questions and pay attention. Where is this vitriol coming from? What are we all so afraid of? It’s time to embrace vulnerability and trust each other a little more– which looks like insanity on the surface, because guns are REAL, yo, but I’m talking about small bids for trust. When my Dad posts something on facebook that I find repulsive*, I should ask him about it rather than simply blocking him from my newsfeed. Learning and love both happen in conversation, not by ostracization or isolation.

I quit blogging for a while, and started listening. This is the duty of the privileged, I think, and I am a privileged person. It is a balm to those who suffer as well, I think– to be heard, to hear others, to share our pains with each other. It is a blessing to be understood, even if people still disagree. I think we can treat each other better than we have, friends. Whatever horrors the future holds, we will handle them better if we handle them together.  We begin that best by listening.


*My actual Dad has never done this. Just, y’know, for example.


3 thoughts on “Time to Listen

  1. Nice to know I don’t make repulsive posts on Facebook. The challenge is, what is repulsive to you, I and many others may not be repulsive to many more others. The world in which we live is becoming more and more accepting of what was considered crass or repulsive just a few years ago.

    1. Yes, but like I said above, regardless of how crass or repulsive someone’s words or ideas are, I think we are still obligated to hear them out. I think it’s too easy to see the worst in people otherwise, to make them into some paper cutout version of a person. People are complex, even crass people, and no one sees themselves as a villain. If we want to help or love people, if we want to understand them, or if we want to help them understand us, we need to start by listening. I understand the need to protect ourselves, too, from things that might be spiritually damaging, but “to the pure all things are pure,” so if we’re listening with pure intent, we’ll find opportunities instead to talk about what is true, and move conversations in more appropriate directions. I think it’s also worth remembering that we ourselves are bound to give offense from time to time, so it is in our best interest to offer others the charity we would want extended to ourselves in those situations.

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