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  • Writer's pictureMeghan St. Clair

Listening for Understanding

Updated: Mar 18, 2020

At book club, we talked ourselves around the room looking for clues to each other’s leanings. Many hid out on social media trying to decipher which of the negative messages were true, and what should be done with the information once it was decoded. At church we watched our friends file into pews, afraid of what would happen in the days and weeks to come. We were a country wondering what others thought, yet too afraid to ask. The media missed the mark on the pulse of the people, abundantly clear by their surprise with the President-elect. Entire demographics discounted made their voices known.

More complicated than a country divided, the outcome of the election centered on what we didn’t talk about. We are critical thinkers, who got distracted by telling ourselves that all Democrats want to end pregnancies, accept entitlements, and pay taxes OR all Republicans are racist, sexist, homophobes. As Pennsylvania was colored in red, my thoughts drifted off into clouds of white privilege. I knew that when I woke up tomorrow my life would change very little. I would still be white and privileged and I would still be a woman and a minority. There is a certain sense of dread having come so far and then having the rug pulled out from under you, I can empathize with that. I also know how it feels to hold on for dear life. Half the country won and half the country lost in this election, and we didn’t see that coming.

While many of us were screaming and yelling about the ugliness of humans, others were politely side stepping each other to avoid a fight. We missed the opportunity to have a conversation about how desperately we want to preserve our way of life and why. We’ve gotten in the habit of trying to talk people into things, rather than listening to gain understanding. Instead of getting to know the farmer in the field or the single mom in the city, we bury ourselves in Facebook to pick apart the day’s sensationalized headline. We forgot to talk about what it looks like to our neighbors across America when they feel their core being threatened and criticized. We discounted the will of the people to protect their livelihoods and cultural norms. Turns out we underestimated our own pain and deep rooted sentiments. Everyone was feeling a bit disenfranchised; like we were “others” in a nation of equals.

This election defined our differences, but didn’t highlight our commonality. Friends, put down your iPhones. Instead, look your disenfranchised neighbor in the eye and know you are united in your sense of not belonging. Be aware that your neighbors also won and lost this year. Have empathy for those who failed because once you failed.  Have empathy for those who succeeded because once you succeeded. Don’t let your Twitter feed tell you to be angry. Don’t stop championing your causes, and don’t ask someone to get over it. Don’t hide out on social media; seek others with differing world views and listen to what they have to say. Hear them from the context of self awareness rather than blame. Look at the hard truths of people and be ready to listen rather than persuade. Go out into the world and find living, breathing humans who are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders and talk to them.  If we think long and hard about how brave/scary/loud/emotional it is to share our heart in its most glorious moments and its darkest we might find compassion. We are a nation built by outsiders, and we will always be others together.

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