Thursday, November 10, 2016

Earn the Right to be Heard

I have lived my adult life on the principle that I must “earn the right to be heard.” This is a mission of the ministry of Young Life that is near and dear to my heart. The premise is that in order for a person to hear what we believe or value, that person must have earned our respect and trust. That only happens when two people spend time together, share experiences, and communicate about things that matter. The best way for this to happen is face to face, not through text message, FB, or Snapchat. Even though our current generation communicates via technology, we must teach all people that real life, real time communication is best. “Earning the right to be heard” does not mean that when we share our core beliefs, values, and innermost thoughts that the other person will necessarily agree. What it hopefully means is that if an avenue of love and trust has been fostered, then at least a give and take discourse and a freedom to disagree or agree can still occur because a safe relationship is in place.

During the course of this vitriolic election year, I vowed I would not make a single political comment, post, or argument via the Internet. This blog post today is not intended to be political either; however, some of the actions and words from this past week will make their way into my commentary.

I can be an extremely blunt, overly honest, and often loud person when it comes to sharing my opinions. I try to use humor whenever possible, and I do truly keep an open mind to others’ points of view. I sometimes choose to hold my tongue, or wait until my anger subsides (certainly not always—given some of the f-bombs that have emerged from my mouth at times). I often will write an email or letter with my thoughts (because I can communicate more clearly that way) and then follow that up with a phone call or face to face conversation. I am not afraid of conflict because I know it usually brings people to better communication and resolution when things are talked through.  

In recent months I experienced a few situations in which I felt extremely “unheard.”  With people that I love and share similar values, I found myself in conversations that were shocking to me. I honestly couldn’t believe that we were on such profoundly different pages and views of a situation. I felt sick, hurt, and devalued. It caused me sadness and pain to the point where I was unable to sleep. During these conversations there were times when I stated my case strongly, with retorts that were just as strong on the other person’s side. There were times when I chose to remain quiet because I felt no breakthrough was happening and I would just work myself into a tizzy if I tried to be heard. It felt like a serious brick wall with no chance of any reconciliation. Yet because the people involved had years of relationship and shared experiences behind us, we made it through the situation. It wasn’t resolved in a way we all wanted, but it did not end in hatred, blame or shame. 

Feeling unheard and shut out is one of the most devastating and out of control feelings one can have. It can make us feel unloved and unaccepted. It hurts because we all desperately want to feel significant, counted, accepted, and respected. These feelings are at our core because we all want to be KNOWN. 

Over the course of the past weeks my FB feed, along with yours, I’m sure, was clogged with political posts and rants and quotes and jokes. As we neared Election Day—I observed people “unfriending” people, and arguments through comment feeds where people who didn’t know each other engaged in hateful, spiteful discourse. I saw posts with people begging for baby pictures and doggie videos. I saw people “taking a break” from FB and the news. However one wanted to deal with the feelings being voiced in cyber space-- that was each person’s choice. I simply chose to ignore and looked only at the things that added positivity to my thoughts. That is until the day after the election. On that day all the hurling of blame and shame and fear and anxiety spewed out. What I read shocked and hurt me. I have “friends” of all races, religions, and political persuasions. I have friends who voted for Trump and who voted for Clinton. I have friends who were broken hearted about the choices, but voted anyway or who wrote in a candidate. I have friends who knew that this wasn’t just a presidential election, but an election with local candidates and measures and propositions in which our voice needed to be heard (through the voting process—which though flawed—is how we currently can be heard).

When the comments and posts became personal attacks, I chose to turn off my feed. It broke my heart that people could make accusations and place blatant labels on people because of the way they voted. I understand that convictions and passions ran deep in this election. (And that is a great thing! It will affect change when people feel compelled and ignited by their passions). Great words, quotes and speeches have been made that have impacted lives and the world. Words are so powerful. But this is what I want to drive home: Words will fall on deaf ears unless there is an element of trust and respect for the one speaking, writing or sharing. Have you ever had an argument with someone who clearly wasn’t listening? Someone who only wanted to hear himself? Someone who was thinking his own next words without listening to yours? Someone who had made up his mind before the conversation started? I know we have all experienced that and it is one of the most frustrating and debilitating feelings ever.

Please hear me now. (Do I sound like a mobile phone commercial?). Your words will be heard when you have built a trusting, safe, and secure relationship with the person you are communicating with. That doesn’t mean that person will change his/her point of view or agree with you.  But hopefully the exchange of words can be one of mutual respect and love.  You may walk away with completely different views. You may be frustrated or angry. But hopefully the relationship will allow that those things can happen without the severing of a friendship. This is certainly not always the case. People part ways and relationships are dissolved because of hurtful words and actions. Many times conflict tears people apart forever. However, as we begin to move forward from this election and into a transitional phase of government, my prayer is that people who I know, love and respect would be willing to meet face to face to discuss their passionate feelings and words instead of making hurtful, devastating blanket statements on a FB post. If face to face isn’t possible, a private message or a phone call would be better. If change and unity are going to have any chance, it will only happen when we begin to communicate with words that are filled with truth, but are shared with respect and a willingness to listen to another side.  

Our words and our voices are important. We want to be heard. We should be heard. But let’s do it in a way that is kind, respectful and open minded. Let’s not engage in hateful posts that make general statements toward a whole group of people.  Let’s start face to face dialogues. Let’s use our words for gathering people and having community forums and meetings. Let’s use our words to affect positive change instead of spiteful disunity. I know these are emotional, passionate times. People are fired up about politics, race, and issues.  Through my life as an English teacher, speaker, writer, and blogger, I have used my words to impact people. I hope these words, while you may not agree with them, have impacted lives for the better. Let’s use words to build up instead of break down. Let’s earn the right to be heard. 

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