One Simple Skill Forgotten

I was listening to a podcast on my way home from work last month about the NFL protest and how it started as a simple act to draw awareness to racism in America, specifically police brutality. The podcast played a clip of President Trump's reaction. I got sick to my stomach as I listened to him call the athletes names as the crowd cheered and suggest they be fired and punished.

After the clip the host claimed that most American white people think the protest stands for something totally different than what it was originally intended for. Sure, there may be some players kneeling for different reasons, but the fact that our President has changed the narrative to belittle black NFL athletes for disrespecting the flag and our country is concerning. What's even more concerning to me is that most of (white) America believes him. 

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This is one example of how the white voice has taken over the American narrative. If you think about it, many prominent voices in our media and culture today are majority members. Maybe this doesn't mean to much to you, but when the white voices stop listening to the minority voices, things get ugly. 

I'm not here to talk politics, nor am I hear to point fingers. I don't think either of those things are very productive, to be honest. But I am here to humbly suggest that we have a listening problem. 

In one of my classes at Fuller Seminary, we are discussing spiritual practices, one of which is the act of listening. When the lecture began, I was tempted to check out, thinking I already knew what I needed to know about listening. I mean, how hard can it be? But I leaned in as some of my fellow classmates offered stories of being dismissed, unheard, not listened to. I looked a little closer and noticed every single person that shared this kind of experience as a minority member. 

Toward the end of our class discussion, one of my classmates suggested that listening is not the same thing as silence. It's active and patient. It doesn't lead with an agenda, nor does it speak over the voice that's talking. 

I was so convicted sitting there in the back of the classroom, wondering how many times I've started a conversation with my own agenda in mind or only half-listened to take advantage of a break in conversation to share my own point of view. That isn't listening, friends. 

I may be so bold to suggest that our culture's future hinges on this one skill. As a white American, it's easy to expect others to listen to me, which is not something I'm proud of. I was raised to believe that I am worthy of being listened to. But do I believe that about my minority friends, too? 

Listening isn't rocket science. It's a simple concept, really. But it takes practice, awareness, and intentionality. It takes participating in a conversation simply to be present. It takes letting down walls, choosing not to respond defensively, and taking the time to truly understand what the person in front of us is saying. 

Don't let the media tell you what to think. Get to know people. Listen to their stories and ask good questions. This is the skill that's missing for many white Americans, including myself.