A friend of mine recently cancelled her cable subscription. The reason? The news. It’s been so consistently bad lately that she started to think that the world was a negative place. And, in her words, “That’s not OK. The world is a beautiful place.”
I couldn’t agree more. And I’m glad that she is focusing on the positive. However, all the bad news is pushing me in a different direction. I am not obsessively consuming television news, but I am trying to listen to the pain of the world with renewed and prayerful interest.
When Michael Brown was shot, and then when Eric Garner was choked to death, many of my friends, family members, colleagues, church members, Facebook friends, and neighbors made their views known very clearly, sometimes vehemently, and occasionally (unfortunately) in a truly poisonous way. I heard sincere and passionate demands for change. But I also heard lots of blaming. I heard subtle and not-so-subtle racism. I heard blanket condemnation of the police. I heard dismissive voices, suggesting that oppressed people should know their place.
What is a white man of privilege to say and do in response to all of this? I have come up with two ideas for myself:
This doesn’t mean that I am keeping quiet about my convictions. For example: I do believe that people should obey the law and respect the police. I do not believe that the police should be quick to use deadly force, even when they are afraid. I believe that de-escalation is the best way to handle someone who is angry or out of control. In the vast majority of situations, it is an effective and life-saving tactic.
No, listening first does not mean keeping quiet about the truth as we see it. Silence allows injustice to continue. But listening first helps us to resist blathering on in ignorance. I have absolutely no idea what it is like to be a part of an oppressed group. My dad was a cop, but I do not know what it is like to carry a badge and a gun into a dangerous situation. Although I am a professional communicator, my job right now is to listen first, especially to those who have experienced discrimination and subjugation.
In the church in which I was raised, we were taught not only to love our neighbors, but to love our enemies. This nearly impossible standard is often dismissed or ignored by Christians, especially by those who see and experience the world from a place of fear rather than faith. Despite the fact that most of us fail to love well even those who love us, let alone our enemies, I believe in this teaching and its power to change us. If we start from a place of courageous love, we give ourselves and others the chance to be at our best and to live in peace.
What about Muslim extremists? What about Israelis who are building settlements in disputed Palestinian territories? What about bigoted Christians? What about overly aggressive cops and violent rioters? What about Vladimir Putin? Kim Jong-un? Should we listen to them and love them, too? Yes. Yes. Yes. Hateful bloviating will do nothing to make the world a better place.
Right now, I’m all ears.