Listening with My Heart

My family has fractured because of this election.  Half of the family is on one side, half on the other, and there are people no longer speaking to each other.  I’m afraid that if someone dies we’ll have to have  Trump – Anti-Trump sides in the church, with  Ushers  asking  which side we belong to.   One thing has become  very clear to me:  we rarely really listen to each other.

When I was in college I joined the debate team.  I loved it! (nerd city, I know)  One of the skills required to be an effective debater is the ability to listen while taking notes and planning your rebuttal.  In other words, listening with presumption.  We knew the topic being debated and we were prepared to present either side, so we knew the arguments each side could use.  All we needed to do was listen for buzz words, record them, then use the arguments we had already prepared to counter-act.

The past few months I’ve come to see that this type of listening is not unique to debate; it is how we all listen to opposing political and social views.  Debate listening.

As I’ve tried to span both sides of the family I’ve realized how little I actually listen to what is being said.   I know what each person is going to say and, instead of really listening, I’m waiting for them to finish so I can present my counter argument, or express my agreement.  I think this is how our country got into the mess it is in.  Social media has allowed us to find  similar thinkers and to discuss topics with them.  That’s great.  The downside is that we are well prepared with our arguments against the other side, so we no longer have to listen.  We’re educated regarding our counter-points; locked and loaded, waiting  for our opportunity to pontificate regarding what we know to be true, & we know it is true because those in the circle we’ve created for ourselves have agreed.

For the past 8 years I have listened, Debate style ,to my family members who disliked Obama.  I never truely heard what they had to say, until recently.  I stopped and listened because it occurred to me that perhaps I was missing something.  If half of our country sees things differently than I,  perhaps I’m not seeing the whole picture.  What are the Trump supporters seeing that I am not?  More importantly, what are the members of my own family thinking?  What do they believe so strongly that they would rather walk away from each other than remain a family.

The example I’ll use, and I’m aware that it is highly charged, is racism.  Many, like my family Trump supporters,  believe that President Obama made racial relations worse.  I’ve heard this for years and walked away when the conversation started.  I was not going to sit still and listen to what I believe is racist rhetoric.   In the past month I listened.  I heard them say that the words Obama chose in response to Trayvon Martin and the riots that ensued, incited black people to revolt.  I’ve heard this many times, but for the 1st time I promised the person telling me this  that I would investigate.   And I did.  This is the speech he gave if you care to read:

I believe that racism is alive and well in our country, and that Obama described it very accurately in this speech.  What I heard was “this is still an issue people, and we need to keep addressing it”.  Others though heard “black people rise up and demand to be treated fairly”.  Sadly, I understand how these disparaging views can exist.  For many, racism is separate water fountains, seats on the back of the bus, and separate schools.  If that is your definition of racism then certainly, racism no longer exists.  My definition of racism is more nuanced, and includes instances of covert abuse, which is what Obama spoke of.  None the less, I can not completely discount the reality of other’s views.

Some would now ask me “why can’t you discount them?  Obviously you are right”, and to answer that I have to tell a very personal, highly emotional story. Last year one of my children was struggling with a number of issues, some normal in young adulthood, others perhaps more difficult.  I believed, and still do, that I knew what he needed to do to address his problems.  I told him the steps he needed to take, and then I waited.  He did not take them.  My anger grew and eventually, when I saw no progress for the better, I insisted he take the steps I’d outlined, and I gave him a deadline.  I told him that if he was not taking those steps he would need to move out of my home in May.  He moved out.  He told me I was “dead to him”.   We have not spoken since then.

He moved in with his father.  His father approaches issues differently than I do.  I could present his approach in a negative light but since I am trying to build a bridge between two divergent positions I won’t.   Nine months have gone by since my son moved out and I think the results have been good.  He seems to be in good shape physically, he is working full time and enjoys his job, and he is taking classes at Community College.  He is not doing any of the things I asked him to do, yet he seems to be thriving.  It’s possible this is coincidence, but I have to accept the fact that it’s also possible that my approach was wrong.  Perhaps his fathers approach was the one that was what our son needed, in fact, the right one.  Maybe he and my son were right and I was wrong.

I believe we all have the same goal:  we all want people to be happy.  We want our families, our neighbors and our friends to have good lives.  I’ve yet to hear anyone state differently.  Unfortunately  I’ve also yet to hear anyone discuss this as the end goal.  Perhaps I’m naive but I believe that if someone were to run for office with proof that his/her ideas would make everyone happy, well it would be a no-brainer, right?  Of course we’d all vote for that candidate!  What would be the downside?

This is the goal I have for my children:  to be happy.  Do I think I have the formula to obtain happiness?  Yes.  But I am also ready to admit that I might be wrong.  It is possible that my formula is simply wrong.  It’s possible that my formula, rather than promoting happiness, actually impedes happiness.   I have already decided that there might come a time in which I will tell my son I was wrong and I am sorry, sincerely, in every cell of my being.  Would I like to do this?  Of course not, because I think I am right.  But what if……

I believe this is where we sit as a nation.  We each have our own ideas of which formulas make our nation and our citizens happy.  And, in keeping with human nature, we embrace our beliefs completely.  Which is fabulous, except that in embracing our beliefs we have to denounce contrary beliefs.  We have to because we have to take action.  The cogs need to keep moving, decisions need to be made, things need to get done.   This is a fact of life.  If action is not taken families starve to death.  The human race dies out.

So, I’m spending my time pondering this:  what if our ideas are wrong?

I don’t think they are wrong, which seems a silly thing to say, right?  If I thought they were wrong I wouldn’t believe them.  What I’m saying now goes much further than that.  Right now I have decided that in addition to acknowledging my beliefs might be wrong I will also embrace the possibility that the contrary views are correct.  It is entirely possible that the actions I find unacceptable are the actions required to make the people in our country happy.  All the people.  White, black, asian, disabled, muslim, wealthy, gay, straight……all the people.

I can not envision how our new government can make this reality, but I’m guessing that the inventor of the walkman never envisioned the ipod.  And of course, this is a simple, unemotional, even silly example of divergent thinking.  But what if…….

Progress is hard.  Change is hard.  Accepting that what we believe might not be true is hard.  The next four years are going to be hard.   And maybe in saying this I’m selling out, but I’ll say it anyway:

I know only 1 thing for sure:  at least half of the people in our country, in my family, in my community, are unhappy and that is unacceptable.   The next four years might be painful but if they bring us closer to a happy nation, I’m in.



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