I was still living in France on 9/11, so while I fully felt the effect of watching my country be attacked, I didn’t experience the mass grief effect that affected everyone on American soil. By the time we landed in California just over a month later, the initial shock had passed and people had started processing and moving on.
In short, this week, I’m experiencing mass grief for the first time, and while it has some uncanny physical similarities to the grief I experienced when my father passed away, it’s so very different in so many ways. Not the least of which is the fact that, since so many of us are feeling this way, it’s hard to know how to comfort others or know how to find comfort from them.
Also, the anger. So much anger everywhere.
I keep asking myself “what now?” and, more importantly “what do I want my kids to think/do and how do I role model that for them?”
I’m not ready to accept anything or simply “get over it.”
I’m not just upset that Trump was elected, like many others, I feel betrayed by the people who elected him both because of or in spite of his rhetoric. My heart is breaking for every woman whose post-assault PTSD is triggered every time they see his picture. My soul hurts for every person who feels like each Trump vote was a vote against their personal human rights. And I feel a silent scream building when I start to think of the world this will create for my children, for all of our children.
And then there’s Facebook.
Where everyone is just yelling and screaming and not listening to anyone else. Making the situation a million times worse.
So, what now?
How about we start with something incredibly simple and unbelievably powerful.
When someone is saying something, instead of instantly jumping to the defensive, let’s all try to
STOP and LISTEN.
Set aside whatever discomfort the words cause you and just LISTEN.
Say “That is not how I see things, can you tell me more?”
Say “I’m not sure I understand your point of view, can you explain it to me again?”
Say “I’d love to hear your side, please tell me how you feel.”
Say “Things are different where I live, please share with me how things are by you.”
Or, just don’t say anything and LET THE OTHER PERSON TALK.
And while they’re talking, actually LISTEN. Don’t mentally prepare a response or a defense. Don’t think about how you feel. Look at them, and listen.
It’s the hardest thing in the world to do, and the most important at this time.
We have reached this point, as a nation, because everyone is so damn convinced they are right that they never take the time to hear anyone else. Social media and cable news has made it so we don’t ever have to hear anything we don’t agree with, so we’ve literally forgotten that people can think differently.
It’s time for that to stop.
It’s time to stop putting people in neat little buckets and assuming that, once filed, you know how they feel or think.
The only way to get past that is to LISTEN.
“Tell me what that safety pin means to you.”
“Tell me more about your take on this.”
“Tell me how you’re feeling.”
And then, shut up, and LISTEN.
And if you really have something to say, AFTER the person is done talking and you are done LISTENING, then, I highly suggest you start your sentence with the word “I.”
It’s simple. “I” sentences engage. “You” sentences alienate and put people on the defensive.
“You” starts an argument. “I” starts an exchange of opinions and ideas.
On Tuesday night I watched the election results and wept. And then I kept right on crying as the reactions unfolded. It’s been a brutal week. A week where I have had to, repeatedly, put aside my own knee jerk reactions to people’s comments so that I could actually hear what they say.
I keep wanting to yell at the top of my lungs “I AM A WHITE WOMAN AND I AM SCARED TOO. I AM NOT TO BLAME. DO NOT LUMP ME IN WITH THE REST.” But I haven’t and instead I’ve been trying to listen. It’s how I was actually able to hear the person who explained that I have guilt by association because I didn’t do enough to convince other white women to vote.
It stung, but it’s not wrong. I was complacent in the belief that sharing Facebook posts to my already converted audience was enough. I could have and should have done more. At the very least, I should have asked more questions, and listened more carefully to the answers.
Just like we all should now.
Listening, letting people feel heard, is so much harder to do than we can ever imagine. But it’s also the greatest gift we can offer to others and to ourselves. Listening leads to compassion and understanding, and there’s no way to achieve peace in our hearts or in our nation until we go through that process.
I beg of you, for yourself, for your family, for our children. Stop talking, just listen. Whatever side you’re on, hear the pain and sit with it until it becomes a bit of your pain too. Only then will we be able to move forward together.