Thursday, December 22, 2016


As many of you know, and especially those of you who have befriended me via my personal page on Facebook, I'm what is generally labelled a political progressive. I've been quite active, both as an outsider and insider having been a part of street protests like Occupy and Black Lives Matter as well as caucusing for Bernie Sanders and twice serving as a delegate for Barack Obama. I've often been quite loud about my convictions, using whatever platform I've had, be it social media, street art, or casual conversations in the supermarket to try to persuade people about my beliefs, to motivate them to act, and to generally push for what I consider to be the best way forward for my city, state and nation.

And yes, regretfully, I've engaged in my fair share of angry back-and-forth. Try as I might, I've too often slipped into arrogance, name-calling, and other unfair attacks on those who don't agree with me. And although I've made a conscious decision to try to remain friendly with people with whom I disagree, some have pushed me away, and frankly I don't blame them.

I've been doing a lot of reflecting on my role as a citizen since the most recent election. I'd be lying if I said the results didn't feel like a punch to the gut, but as I've recovered my breath, I've begun to recognize that maybe I've been doing it all wrong: the evidence is that I find the decision of approximately half of my fellow citizens to be incomprehensible. I'd always assumed that they were simply deluded, and they may be, but this election has made me realize that I'm at least as deluded as they are, perhaps more so. It's my responsibility to become less deluded and that won't happen if I just keep doing what I've been doing.

More and more I've come to understand that listening is one of the most important things we can do for one another. Whether the other be an adult or a child, our engagement in listening to who that person is can often be our greatest gift. Whether that person is speaking or playing or dancing, building or singing or painting, if we care we can listen. ~Mister Rogers

I've never been one for New Year's resolutions, so perhaps I'll call this one a "solstice resolution," but going forward I'm attempting to commit myself to listening, especially to those with whom I disagree. I mean, this is what I do all day long with the children I teach, it's the cornerstone of how I work with kids, so I know I have the ability to actively listen. It's not something one can do via a medium like social media, it has to be face-to-face. So, I've been breaking bread with people with whom I've argued, asking them questions, and listening to their answers. It's been hard for me to just listen, to not jump in to "correct" them, but it's getting easier, especially now that my goal is not to persuade them (as if arguing has ever persuaded anyone) or to win points (as if anyone is keeping score), but rather simply to understand.

And you know, it's starting to change me. I'm still a political progressive, of course, but I'm finding it easier to be less outraged, less insistent, less in a hurry. I'm fighting against my bad habit of planning my response as other people talk, but rather concentrating on really hearing them until they're finished; I'm still not doing it every time, but more often. If I can do it with kids, I can do it with adults. The key, I think, is to strive to love them even when it's a hard thing to do. I'm not writing this to make the case that I've become a better person or that I've succeeded at this, but rather as an acknowledgement that I'm striving to find for myself a new way of engaging in the project of self-governance.

I've been looking about for inspiration. I've found a great deal, for instance, in the dialogs between Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. I've been studying video of Mister Rogers listening to both children and adults. And I've been inspired by things like this:

While you are actively learning about someone else, you are passively teaching them about yourself. ~Darryl Davis

Perhaps there will be a day for outrage and anger, but it's not healthy for that day to be every day. Fighting may hurt my "enemy" but it also hurts myself. Listening costs me nothing but my ignorance, and maybe it will change the world.

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1 comment:

Sarah K said...

Amazing. Thank you for the inspiration. And well done.