When Listening Is Tough

Story is powerful.

Your story is powerful. Your experiences, your wisdom, your knowledge, your interpretation, your worldview, your perspective. All of it is important. And all of if it is what makes you who you are.

I love hearing stories. I love when people are vulnerable enough to open up and share what they have been through. There is no experience you can share with me that is too dark. And there is no experience that is so boring it is unworthy of being told.

We need to tell our stories. I am grateful for the opportunity to share mine. I am hopeful you will have opportunity to share yours.

There is a problem with story-telling, though.

Actually, it is not even really a problem with the telling. The problem is: we don’t listen enough.

There are times when we are so completely wrapped up in and moved by others’ stories. We will pay good money and devote plenty of time to go hear some of the best motivational speakers tell us how they overcame tremendous odds to get to where they are. While it is sometimes difficult to listen to preachers on a Sunday, if someone comes to share their testimony they have the attention of the entire crowd. We love to go to movies, especially based on true story movies, that detail the account of an underdog rising up to become a champion.

But too often, we believe some people’s stories are not worthy of being heard.

_________________________

I went and saw the play Nickel and Dimed this past weekend (based on the book of the same name). At the end of the production, the characters come out and give short monologues on their experiences with working low wage jobs in America. They are honest. They are raw. They are at the same time filled with hope yet laced with despair.

Stories of poor people are often disregarded. People will say some hurtful things:

“They need to work harder!”

“Why are they taking my money?”

“Jobs are plentiful; just go flip burgers.”

“I’ve always worked. Why can’t they?”

“They are such leeches.”

But when was the last time you sat down and listened the story of a poor person? When was the last opportunity you had to listen to a family in generational poverty? Have you ever even realized the difference between generational and situational poverty?

When was the last time you just listened?

The stories are not pleasant. They are hard to listen to. They are hard to accept. It is hard to acknowledge that some people do not have the same opportunities or access to resources that you have had. It can be hard to understand the reasons behind the decisions some people make.

But you will never be able to learn if you first do not listen and hear their stories.

_________________________

I went and saw a play written by an African-American student at a local university. It detailed the stories of people in an urban setting and what might lead them to gangs or drugs or violence. It is hard to acknowledge that people who participate in illegal activities may have really ended up believing they had no choice.

As I watched this story, I was moved by the portrayal of people who truly wanted what was best for themselves and the people they loved. But no one was around to teach them. No one was around to pay any attention to them. Although a portrayal, it was just as powerful as the play that was based on real life stories.

Because so many black people have been disregarded and cast aside. They have been called thugs, or uneducated, or drains on society. They have been called disrespectful and told they should just suck it up. They have been told that our society is equal now, so quit dwelling on the past.

But when was the last time you sat down and listened to the experience of person of color in this country? When was the last time you asked how people felt when presidential nominees spewed racist tropes and then saw their poll numbers increase?

It may be hard to acknowledge that Blacks, and Latinos, and Native Americans, and others truly experience discrimination and prejudice. It may be difficult to acknowledge that things are not as good as we hope they are.

But you will never be able to learn if you first do not listen and hear their stories.

_________________________

Everyone’s story needs to be heard. And you cannot correct someone else’s story. It is their story. Just like your story is yours. And that needs to be shared and heard, as well.

There is a lot of noise in our world today. And an election year only makes it worse.

Please stop the noise. Don’t talk over other people. Don’t disregard stories. Listen. Better yet: invite people to your house, have a meal, sit, and listen to their experiences. Truly listen to what they are saying. Then share your experience.

Everyone’s story must be heard. But in order to hear, we must listen.

Especially to the ones that make us uncomfortable.

2 thoughts on “When Listening Is Tough

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