It’s getting harder to practice what I preach these days. It seems that several times a day I want to fight or flee from what I am hearing and seeing. In a recent Op Ed piece in our local paper, the headline “My skin color is my curse in today’s America” over the face of a mustachio-sporting white man pulled my chain. I immediately turned to the next page with unkind epithets spewing in my brain.
After calming myself by reading about the predictably comfortable win of the Golden State Warriors over the Brooklyn Mets, I paused and had a little talk with myself about what I say I care about (understanding) and espouse in these blogs (listen to understand, first). And, since the author lives in a nearby city and is a distant neighbor, I thought I should read his article and attempt to at least understand his point of view.
It was heavy sledding. “As a white male, I am the mocked minority…and vilified for my race…you are labeled a bigot and a demon that doesn’t deserve anyone’s respect…Diversity has divided our country along ethnic lines.” I want to throw facts and figures back at him from a place of self-righteous rage. So, I pause and take a few deep breaths. I remind myself that people rarely want to understand facts or your point of view when they feel threatened, as he seems to feel.
One way to create safety is to calm one’s own inner state and listen carefully in order to understand the other person’s point of view. Perhaps then he might be willing to listen to understand yours. This is hard work. Really hard work. I imagine that if I were to hear the author’s words instead of just reading them, it would be even harder.
As I reread his piece, I notice ideas with which I agree such as, “Once you label someone, you negate them…The problem with this country is not White Power, it is Wealth Power.” If the author really believes what he wrote in this piece (I have no reason to believe he doesn’t), I can only imagine how afraid and angry he feels. (Anger often arises quickly on the heels of fear). With this, I can empathize. It brings me back to the feelings I had when I, as a white woman consulting with Ford Motor Company in the 1980’s, was ignored, dismissed, and not wanted both for my youth and my gender.
He ends his piece with, “I will not be well received for saying these things, but I want to be honest.” I wonder if this author’s thoughts would be better received if he simply described his experience without blaming and vilifying others (“Progressives describe all white men with the same immoral motives and depraved behavior…The real oppressor in America is the liberal left.”).
The road to civil conversations appears long and hard. And, yet, I still believe it is the only way to bridge the ever-widening divides in our country that are being destructively widened everyday by each one of us along with the usual suspects: elected officials and pundits. It’s more than time for us to start listening to try our best to understand, ask questions of genuine curiosity (“How did you come to hold this point of view?”), listen again, and then, offer our point of view as just that, a point of view, and not vilify others.
What do you think is the key to bridging the divides in our country? Please respond in the comment section below.
Mary’s book “Talk Matters! Saving the World One Word at a Time” is now available. Click here to purchase it.