I don’t shut up well. I’m horrible at it. I think I might have been born without the physical structure that stops our mouths from moving or our hands from writing when the situation warrants it.
I spent years voicing my political opinions, and I spent a couple of years sharing my political opinions on Facebook.
I don’t regret this, and I’m not ashamed of it. I felt strongly, and I will always insist that those of us with a voice serve the world best by sharing that voice. (And if you are a literate middle class American you have more of a voice than the majority of people in this world.)
Lately though I’ve tried to hold myself back from some of these discussions. And the reason is that they often feel like a bunch of people standing around in a circle screaming at each other. The only difference is that in a real life shouting match people are a bit less likely to blatantly question and insult the integrity of each other.
I haven’t had skin thick enough to partake, and so I have sat back and listened. And by observing these conversations, I have noticed one glaring thing —
No one is listening. Nearly no one.
People are reading the words alright, but they are only reading them to find new ways to argue. It seems as if no one is joining these conversations to learn or discover new points of view. People just want to convert the other. Which is never going to happen because the other just wants to convert them.
And to be honest, part of the reason I have abstained from commenting is because I start to fear that arguing is even no longer as much about winning as it is about making oneself feel better about our own values and willingness to stand up for them. It’s starting to feel self-righteous.
And this is not an indictment against others. I am at least as guilty as anyone else if not more. (The rush of standing up for injustice can feel really, really good.)
But self-righteous looks horrible on me. More horrible even than it does on other people.
And so I’m left with what to do. These are important issues and they matter. To not speak feels negligent. But to speak feels futile and damaging and self-aggrandizing.
So I’ve decided that there’s one revolutionary thing i can do. One thing I’m not seeing done elsewhere.
I can listen.
And when I say I can listen, I mean I can radically listen. I can listen and read the viewpoints from all sides. I can try to understand the underlying values of all parties. I can try to discern the priorities and fears and virtues and dreams and prejudices being brought forth. In the midst of a million arguments clamoring for attention, I can try to pay that attention.
And I’m trying to figure out if this is a cop out. But I don’t think it is. Because right now, most people are firmly entrenched on one side. The lines are clearly drawn. And the two sides aren’t going to come together. It’s going to take people standing in the middle to bridge those gaps.
I’ll probably fail sometimes, but my intention for the forseable future is to just stop. I’ll stop posting about politics or commenting or sharing or liking. I’ll take it in and absorb it. Hopefully one day I can then help bridge gaps. But even if that time never comes, at least I’ll know that I can understand both sides. I will know that I have been edified by listening to the values of the competing parties. I will know that I sought to understand before I sought to be understood.
So who is with me? Who wants to spend a month or two months or a year just listening radically? Who wants to remain open enough to hear inconvenient or unappetizing opinions? Who wants to become a repository rather than a dispensary?
Please join me.
(And to those few who I speak politics with in person, I’m still hoping to continue our conversations. A girl can only hold back so much!)