Conversations on race are difficult. Every time the subject comes up, people usually tend to take positions, or run for cover, rather than sit and listen to each other. An important first step if there is to be any progress is the ability to listen. Here are some principles that have been helpful to me:
1. Everyone has a reason why they believe the way they do.
I might not agree with their conclusions, but it behooves me to listen. This is especially significant when race is involved. Here is an example:
Racial slurs were expressed toward an African American in one of our universities. Here are some responses I saw consistently on social media. Some of them are true. None of them are helpful.
*It was said by one person. Not everyone feels that way.
*Let’s ignore the trolls.
*The problem is black history month.
*The problem is divided conferences, eliminate black conferences!
Those comments reflect a non-listening attitude. Instead of trying to minimize, deflect, ignore, and even justify, let’s do something radical. Let’s listen! Listen to the pain. Listen to the reasons. Listen to the facts. Ask questions. Listen some more. For example, my first reaction (for which I had to examine myself) to a pain-filled night was: “well, that’s just one person’s opinion.” This response revealed some personal bias, and I needed to step back and enter the pain of the preacher (I’ve been there!). Let’s listen.
One day I came home to find my wife crying. She had a bad day at work. As she started to tell me about it, I committed a cardinal sin. I interrupted and told her to quit her job. She immediately snapped back and said: “That’s not what I need right now. I need for you to L.I.S.T.E.N.” (hands on her hips and everything). Lesson learned. We don’t listen to the exclusion of action. Listening precedes action and informs it. It really is frustrating to explain race issues or any other issue to people that say “don’t confuse me with the facts, because I have already made up my mind!”
I make a commitment to finding out why you believe the way you do before I express my opinion (if at all).
2. Listening should move us to action.
If all we do is listen, we are like the 75-year-old college student that has attended school for 40 years but never graduates. Follow me for a second. The reason you sit in class (listening) is that one day soon, you will go out and get a job (action). Both components are essential.
Listening without action frustrates.
Action without listening complicates.
Another example is a pep-rally. The reason a team has a pep-rally is to then go and play the game. Without the game, pep-rallies are meaningless. Let’s vow (starting with me) to listen.
What sustainable, intentional, Spirit-filled action steps will we take?
Let me know your thoughts.
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. —James 1:19
The reason I listen, is because listening bulldozes walls.