The Importance of Listening

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Because I want America to look like this.

I think it’s safe to say that we all love a good story. Whether it’s a cheesy, love story like a Nicholas Sparks book, an action adventure movie like Lord of the Rings or a funny, light-hearted TV show like New Girl. We love them. We laugh, we cry, we gasp, we sit on the edge of our seat. We become emotionally invested in them.

So why then, since I know that we all love a good story, do we completely disregard the stories of the people sitting beside us?

Because don’t real live people matter more than Ronnie Miller, Frodo Baggins and Jessica Day? It’s an easy answer on the surface… Of course real people matter more than fictional ones. But sometimes I find it kinda hard to believe. (This coming from a girl who named her puppies Luna and Pippin.)

But ponder this… how many times do we prove by our actions (or inactions) that we care more about fictional characters than actual people? We never question or second-guess the people on TV or in the books. We may disagree with something they say or do, but we usually still love them, right? And we actively want to know how they are doing and what they are doing. I’ve even almost prayed for people who aren’t real before (honestly, what is wrong with me).

So obviously, we care quite a bit about the lives of characters. But when it comes to those actually in our lives…

Please tell me I’m not the only one who has: asked someone else how they are doing just so I can tell them how I am, had my response planned out in the heat of an argument or discussion before the other person even says their opinion, or completely ignored or disregarded another person’s experience as valid or true just because I have never had that experience.

I do those things more often than I’d like to admit, and I’m just going to go ahead and assume that you have too.

So, I think it’s time, past time really, that we all sat down and actually listened. It’s as simple as that. Sitting down and listening to our family, friends, acquaintances, strangers… people we like and people we don’t, people we agree with and people we don’t, people who look like us and people who don’t.

Instead of shouting “You’re wrong!” or “I don’t believe you!” or “That’s not true!” Why don’t we sit down, close our mouths, place our full attention on someone else and listen?

Because the truth is I cannot speak for the male experience. I cannot speak for the black experience. Or the gay, transgender, poor, mother, elderly, married, just to name a few. Because that’s not who I am.

I cannot speak for anyone’s experience except for mine. Except for Mikayla’s. I can relate to the straight, white, Christian, single, 22 year old, recent college graduate woman. But even then, I cannot speak for every person who fits those categories. Because each person lives their own unique lives differently.

Each person has their own story.

At the root, this is why it’s problematic to ask the only black person in the room to speak for their entire race. It’s why it’s problematic for white people to say that black individuals aren’t unfairly targeted by the police. Or why I can’t claim to know exactly how an LGBT person feels.

Because the truth is we don’t know how anyone else experiences the world except for ourselves. We could change that, though, if we listened.

Even when we know we’re going to disagree with someone’s opinion, let’s listen.
Even when we don’t agree with someone’s lifestyle or choices, let’s listen.
Even when we have a hard time believing that what they are saying is true, let’s listen.

It’s a choice. You don’t have to listen. You can easily choose not to. But you know, I think listening has the ability to create a more peaceful, just, loving, graceful and good society and world. Because instead of fighting, arguing, ignoring, resisting, forgetting and not caring. We would be sitting down, having honest conversation, opening up and listening.

This doesn’t mean we compromise our beliefs, opinions and ideas. It means we listen first. Then tell the one across the table (who is hopefully willing to listen now that you have listened to them) what you think. That’s it. You don’t have to end the conversation in agreement or with changed beliefs. But you can and should end the conversation in love, peace and respect and with some new insight and knowledge.

That’s the first and most important step, I think. But listening could also go as far as going out of our way to talk to those with completely different experiences so that we can learn more about diversity. It could mean, if we are in a place of higher privilege than the one we are listening to, advocating on their behalf so that their experience can be better. It could even mean something as simple as being a listening ear for a friend who has had a rough day. I would challenge all of us to do all of those things and more.

Ultimately, listening like this could mean a lot. It could be world changing. World shattering, even. I think it could even solve all the world’s problems… maybe. Combined with a whole lot of Jesus, probably.

But my point is, let’s listen. Every person’s story is important and worth hearing.

And I think we can all agree that we can never get too many stories in our lives.

So, I’ll say it again. Listen. Learn. Be a good human. And hug someone different than you.

Until next time.
Mikayla

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