Listening

These days, it seems like more and more often we are having outbreaks of violence and tragedy and heartbreak, and sometimes I barely recognize my country.  Last week we were buffeted, this way and that, by the news – first two more police shootings of men of color, and all the questions.  So many questions.  Why does this keep happening?  What is broken in our law enforcement system that allows this?  Where is the oversight?  My heart broke for the families of those two men.

And then there was Dallas.  And more news that is so hard to watch and to read about and to understand.  The heartbreak – more heartbreak – for more families, compounded by a sickening sense that our gun laws are out of control, our justice system is out of control, and our country is broken.

I don’t normally write about national tragedies on this blog.  Mostly, that’s because this is not a news blog or a current events blog or a legal blog.  But it’s also because I always seem to find myself silent after big national tragedies – not knowing quite what to say, feeling that everyone else is better than I am at expressing their feelings on these events, feeling that I have nothing to add or that my thoughts might be unwelcome because I can try to understand but I can’t really live many of these situations, so I will never know.

Still, what is that saying?  Evil triumphs when people stay silent?  (Something like that.)  I think we have come to a watershed moment where we all have to speak up for what is right and true, and we have to shout down the voices of hate with a stronger message of love and tolerance and kindness.

Most of all, though, we have to listen.

I can’t live the experience of a person of color, who is profiled and prejudged based on his skin color.

I can’t step inside the shoes of the mother who has to teach her son how to interact with police so he won’t get shot.  My son is white, so he will probably never be summarily shot by police (it does happen, but it’s far more rare than in communities of color) and he won’t be profiled because of his skin color.  I don’t have that worry, and I can’t imagine what that’s like.

But I can listen.  I can acknowledge that I have had advantages and opportunities that others don’t get, and that the reason is my skin color, and that this is unfair.  I can work to fix that by advocating for diversity and inclusion in all organizations of which I am a part, and I try to do that.  These are things that might be hard to say and to hear, but I have to say them.  And when people want to tell me about their different experiences, I want to listen and I must hear.

And while I can’t ever say “I understand,” because I don’t and can’t, I can relate.  I don’t know what it is to worry about my son being shot by police, but I already am worrying about teaching my daughter exit strategies and how to protect herself and get herself out of dangerous situations that she might find herself in by virtue of being female.  So I am listening.

I don’t know what it is to be targeted and harassed by racists using an ostensibly neutral hashtag like #AllLivesMatter because I have not lived that experience.  But I know how demeaned I felt by #NotAllMen.  So I am listening.

I don’t know what it is to fear the police because of my skin color.  But I do know that I often fear them too, because I fear unfamiliar men, and these unfamiliar men have guns.  So I am listening.

I don’t know what it is to feel the desperation of a community that has lost man after man after man to senseless and unjustifiable violence.  But I know what it is to feel desperate and small after seeing yet another rapist escape with a slap on the wrist (and a report of his athletic achievements), while another woman’s life is ruined forever.  So I am listening.

I hate the violence that we have seen over the past week; this country is unrecognizable.  And I am so, so sad for the families that have lost loved ones this week – all of them.  If we are to move forward and create something better out of this national tragedy, which I hope we can, we must listen.

So talk to me.

(Boring end note: the opinions in this post are my own and do not represent my employer.  Nothing in this post should be construed as legal advice.  Respectful comments are welcome, but any comments that are disrespectful to any individual or group, in my sole judgment, will be deleted.)

2 thoughts on “Listening

    • Thank you, Katie. I wonder how much of the heartbreak we have had to witness over the past few months could be avoided if people would listen to – and really try to hear – one another.

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