Right now, all around us, folks are literally crying out for us to just stop talking and listen. Not argue or agree. Not discuss or fix. I think these folks are literally begging us to listen.
A few times recently I’ve seen someone online doing what could generously be described as “venting.” Often there are confrontational, argumentative comments creating the sort of negative exchange that degrades so much of social media.
Normally I scroll past this stuff, but a few times I’ve tried just commenting in a way that lets them know I’m listening. The results are remarkable.
Frequently the original writer responds with a note of thanks that indicates my response was all they wanted. They weren’t looking for a fight, or even to change anyone’s mind. They just wanted someone to hear them.
Sometimes several others will like or chime in with a comment of their own. It tells me that there’s a whole lot of people out there who feel unheard.
It’s tempting to dismiss the protests or wails or screams as just one more overly emotional outburst. Perhaps, but I believe we’re seeing the release of decades of pent-up frustration.
It’s like an enclosed vessel in which the internal pressure accumulated, one big and small painful incident at a time. No one notices until one event triggered some sort of release valve and all the repressed anger and sadness bursts forth. The reaction seems disproportional to the single event that triggered it, and a surprised bystander may rightly wonder, “Where in the world did that come from?”
From my privileged perch I can choose to ignore these explosions. Or I can explain them away as evidence of some inherent character flaw. Or I can stuff them into some convenient ideology, usually some toxic mixture of politics and religion, that allows me to feel I’m on the “right” side.
Or I can listen.
Maybe you and I are feeling a bit helpless in the face of pandemic impacts, financial uncertainty, social upheaval, and political nastiness. It’s all so big. What can we do?
On our own, we can’t do much about those problems. But we can stop defending our pre-conceived conclusions. We can try to see things from another perspective.
We can be more concerned with getting it right and less with being right.
We can listen.