It’s Thursday evening, and my four kids are watching Netflix after dinner… I believe they are watching Goosebumps. My wife and I just had an impassioned conversation about the aftermath of #Election2016. Like many Americans, I was surprised by the results. While I thought it would be closer than the pundits and pollsters were saying, I was still surprised. Admittedly, I had probably equal disdain for both of the major candidates. In my opinion, Republicans and Democrats had both nominated people I couldn’t imagine being deserving of the office. Others had run on both sides that I could’ve supported. So I could morph into whatever political conversation in which I found myself… pro-… anti-… I understood the talking points.
But now it’s Thursday, the election is over, and a whole lot of people are upset, fearful, confused, hurt, and maligned. Don’t get me wrong… I’m cynical. I have little doubt that had the election gone differently, the aftermath would have been similar… equal fear, equal gloating, equal ugliness on Facebook by some, equal despair by others. But it didn’t go differently, and here is where we are. So where do we go from here?
There are many voices saying people should just move on, accept the loss, lick their wounds, and come back the next time. Fair enough. You’re right. They will have to do just that, but not yet. It’s only Thursday. And their fear is legitimate, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. It doesn’t have to make sense to you. I’ve already heard stories of little kids being bullied in school for being non-white, asked if they were “illegal” and will they have to leave, women who feel uncertain about their safety in a culture that elected a man who said what he said. And sure he apologized, but that doesn’t take away the hurt. Give them space to mourn, grieve, doubt, scream, protest. Your “christianese” words aren’t helping. It’s only Thursday after all.
At the same time, we can’t forget that millions upon millions of people felt so disenfranchised with the current political system, so abused and forgotten, that they latched on to an outsider who told them they weren’t stupid, backward, or forgotten. They were, in fact, valuable and worthwhile… this mass of white, black, asian, and hispanic people who felt ostracized and dictated to by a foreign culture that came across arrogant and elitist. I grew up in the heart of “Trumpland.” I know exactly how it feels to be labeled as soon as someone finds out you’re from West Virginia. Do you know how many times I’ve heard the statement, “I can’t believe you’re from there… how is that possible?” While I was not a Trump supporter, I can understand the attack on your identity when you’re called a “basket of deplorables.” And sure she apologized, but that doesn’t take away the hurt. Give them space to celebrate, cheer, believe, hope. They feel like they’ve been heard, finally. Your attack on their intelligence isn’t helping. And besides, it’s only Thursday.
And yet… as I sit here listening to the chatter coming from my living room, I’m still bothered by something, something that has struck me like a knife in my own heart – I don’t listen very well. Sure, I follow the general courtesy of not talking while others are, but that’s just being polite. That’s not listening. The more I think about it, the more I realize I don’t listen to understand. I listen to respond. I listen to critique. I listen to find the hole in your argument or narrative, exploit it, and win the argument.
As I look at #Election2016, the darkest thing I see hides itself in my own heart. I’m a horrible listener. I am the exact opposite of James 1:19… too often I am “slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry.” I’m the one who hears the cries of my brothers and sisters, and even if I don’t say it, I’m thinking in my own heart… “move on, accept the loss, lick your wounds, and come back next time.” I hear the voices of those calling out in “Trumpland” and I look down my nose at them with contempt, thankful that I’m no longer “one of those” and that I “got out of there.” But I’m not listening, at least not with the intent to understand. I’m usually listening with the intent to correct. Because if I’m right, you must be wrong, and I’m always right.
I need to listen more. I don’t need to view every conversation as an argument to win. That just makes you my enemy. I don’t need to have the final word. My voice is not that important. I don’t need to comment on every Facebook post and correct the thought process of its author. Who do I think I am? Instead, I need to simply respond with, “Why do you feel that way?” Then listen… and actually listen. And when they finish, I don’t need to respond defensively but inquisitively… “Tell me more about that. What was that like? How did that make you feel?” I need to learn the true meaning of James’ words… “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
Perhaps I’m not alone in this. Perhaps we could all listen a bit more to the people with whom we disagree, or especially, the people we don’t understand.
Last thing… if you’ve been reading this, and the whole time thinking of people who you think need to read it, you’re probably a lot like me and need to learn to listen too. But it’s only Thursday. We can talk about that later.