It’s officially five days after the United States election, and I am comfortable.
Being honest, I am uncomfortable with the election results, as are a lot of people in my country. My loving girlfriend and I stayed up well past 5am discussing over the phone our worries and thoughts about the state of the nation; about where our country is headed on a multitude of levels, socially and politically.
And yet here we are, five days after the election, and I am surprisingly less frenetic and more resolved and firm in my heart and mind. Why?
Because this coming season in our country is very much a transitional period. Now, more than ever, we have been given an opportunity; and have the perfect means to practice something that I feel has been ignored for far too long: listening to one another genuinely. We have the chance to really start having discourse with each other about the issues facing us all as individuals, and even more so as a collective of people living in the United States.
No, I’m not talking about that song you heard in kindergarten about “active listening”. Or even just giving an ear for the sake of being polite.
I’m talking about real listening and real engaging conversation. I’m taking about the power of showing love to one another by empathy and insight-filled interaction.
You remember grade school, right? I sure do. Sitting in a circle of children, having my teacher talk to me about the virtues of listening to my friends with Little Miss Sunshine smiling on a big poster beside her. At the time, being young and ridiculous like many kids my age, I remember thinking: Yeah I will just hear what the person is saying and say sorry. “Active listening means understanding what your friend is saying,” my teacher would describe; to me that just meant the literal definition of understanding. If Josh says, “That hurt,” then it must have really physically hurt, so I should say sorry because hitting people is not good. Pretty simple.
We get older though—life changes—and we start seeing the real world for what it is. We are forced, whether we like it or not, to abandon a lot of our “innocence” and ideals and go with the flow. The flow of being angry; of wanting to be justified and right in our thinking; in judging a person on their words and actions and proving a point. That is the “adult” world as we call it. And it can be and is a harsh mistress. Often times, especially in America, we make everything a rigid dichotomy between us and them. Even if we live in the same country and have been here for many years, so-and-so is an alien and we are the native.
It’s the truth. And a powerful reminder of how words can affect not just you, but everyone around you.
Diane Setterfield is an award winning, New York Times number one best-selling author for her novel, The Thirteenth Tale in 2006. I found something she said of words and the effects they have. It’s a powerful quote that I feel resonates with not only me, but with a lot of people these days:
If I am being truthful, I tend to take authors, writers, artists and generally creative minded people more seriously when it comes to what they have to say. That’s not just because I myself am an English graduate and artsy guy, either. It’s mostly because those same creative people tend to think outside of the box, and really try to tap in to the inner core of what it is to be a person; of what makes us tick. You really never see athletes or mathematicians speak about their deepest feelings and fears, let alone speak about them in a powerful, eloquent manner. And this quote is a perfect example of that.
Look, there’s a reason why the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword” exists. For hundreds of years predating us, humans have always known that words have magnitude. Like Diane says, they can take us prisoner—sometimes we can hear someone slander us, or talk behind our back in some way and they will wrap us up and never let go. We will go on thinking about those same words for days, and overthink the possible outcomes of what’s to happen next. Just as well, words can make us fall in love with an ideal and drive our hopes sky high with lofty aspirations. Then the next day they can come crashing down on us like the weight of the cosmos on our shoulders; humble us so low to the ground that we cannot even say simply that we were humbled, but that we were “crushed”.
And of course, as the last of the quote states, words can do utter damage to our souls. Inflammatory remarks, attacks on any number of qualities we have—from our character to our skin color or even how we talk—can absolutely pierce through even the toughest of skin and the hardest of hearts. I have seen it countless times in my life and experienced it just as many. Someone says something to you or about you and you only can think of two options: get the blood boiling and confront them (sometimes irrationally) or run away and feel the pain lacerate deep.
But there is another choice, and I think it is a choice that can use words at their fullest potential: building empathy and understanding through dialogue.
When you lend an open ear, don’t just do it to do it. Do it with intention—put all your intents and purposes into really trying to understand and empathize with where that person is coming from, especially if they disagree with you on an issue! I am a firm believer that everyone has their own story and their own problems, and that we all have some common scripts in our story if only we would take the time to read them and cross-reference them. You might think that Person A feels this way because he is a jerk, but Person A is really just calling out for help in a difficult situation in his or her life, and needs someone to actually care about what they are experiencing.
After you really take the time to try to see their side of the pasture, and whether their grass is actually greener, do what you can to help fertilize that pasture. Start spreading constructive seeds—tell them you get it and see their fears and motivations, and give some affirming words back. Even if you don’t agree, you can express an opposing opinion in a way that garners mutual understanding and some level of respect! Not everything has to be “I win, you lose”. Rather, it can be “We understand each other,” and then you both move on more educated about a differing position than when you came into the discussion.
The reason why divisiveness exists is because people are too self-motivated and too self-centered to humble themselves and really care about their fellow man.
The reason why so many people are upset and angry in America is because the other people aren’t even attempting to relate or educate themselves. That starts with actually learning; learning by listening and making fruitful discourse with the “other guys”.
If we would all try to flex our attentiveness and ears instead of our brawn and our biceps, maybe, just maybe, we could all lift each other up to the pinnacles we know we are meant to reach.
Written by: Michael “Bboy Roach1” Roach