How Can We Listen if Everyone is Yelling?

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If there is anything the entire world agrees on, it’s that 2020 has been horrible. Pandemics. Economic decline. Wildfires. Mass death. Riots. Protests. And this on top of the yearly disasters we’ve become familiar with.

None of that bothers me so much though as what we’re becoming as a society here in the United States. I know we were fragmented before. I guess the good economic times kept Pandora’s box reasonably shut tight for awhile. That is certainly not the case now.

In the beginning, when Covid 19 broke out, we seemed to be pulling together. We showed solidarity in the midst of suffering. It was hard, but we were going to get through this.

Now my Facebook feed is a list of conspiracy theories, rants, and accusations. They are thrown from left to right and right to left. Everyone seems to be yelling, online and in the streets.

There’s a problem with always yelling, though. When your voice gets too loud, you can’t hear what anyone else is saying. We read our favorite magazines, websites, and curated Facebook memes. We can’t hear the other side of the argument.

I have my biases. I yell, too, more often than I should. But there are ways we can at least somewhat get around the sound of our own voices to hear others.

Believe in the Good Will of Others

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Recently, I watched an interview with Bill Gates. The interviewer asked him about how he dealt with all the conspiracy theories that have sprung up around him concerning coronavirus and his efforts to help make a vaccine.

You can see the look of exasperation on his face. He’s trying to do everything he can to help and has no clue how to respond to someone who thinks 5G towers are causing a pandemic or that he secretly wants to implant microchips into people to control the masses.

Bill and Melinda Gates are some of the most generous people alive today. They put in busloads of their own money to solve some of the biggest problems in the world. But they are also rich and powerful. I guess that makes them evil?

How does a person change the mind of someone who is bent on believing these theories? I don’t know, but unless someone has given a solid reason to believe they have ill-will (like serial killers, for example), it’s safe to bet they are like the rest of us – living their lives doing the best they can. It’s an act of faith to believe this but not blind faith.

Bill Gates or whoever else we disagree with are probably just people. Nothing fancy. They have personal interests – sometimes altruistic, sometimes not. And just like you, they deserve to be heard.

To truly hear them, we need to believe they have good will.

Read Websites/Magazines from Both Sides

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Maybe you’re a conservative and the National Review or Breitbart always seem to be right on. Maybe you’re a progressive and the New York Times or Mother Jones always hits the mark. I’m not asking you to let go of your convictions, but there’s a problem with getting information from only the sources you agree with. They never tell the whole truth.

I’m not saying they lie – or at least that they try to lie. They just don’t tell the whole story. As Proverbs says:

The one who first states a case seems right,

Until the other comes and cross-examines.

Proverbs 18:17, NRSVCE

Sometimes I will read an article and think someone is the worst person in the world. Then I’ll go to the other side and see it isn’t the case at all. Most of the time, though, I’ll be 100% on the side of my favorite website’s view on a topic, but then reading the other side will make me adjust that to 90%.

This is all for the good. Being willing to change your mind, or at least seeking to understand why people you disagree with don’t change their’s, only benefits you and the rest of society. It builds empathy and compassion.

Talk to People Who Know

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I am a privileged, white, heterosexual male who grew up in an upper-class neighborhood – even if our family couldn’t claim that title. I know next to nothing about what it is like to be dirt poor or a minority.

For about six months, though, I lived in a low-income, Section 8 apartment complex. I ended up interacting with prostitutes, a guy divorced from a wife who was roughly bipolar, and kids who played outside without parental supervision, fought each other, and broke windows.

I promise you, I would have far less sympathy for Black Lives Matter and the pain going on right now in the black community in general if I didn’t have that experience. There was a shooting in the complex, and I could see the fear in our neighbor’s face as she yelled at us to get our kids inside. I remember going to an event outside a Target where kids were allowed to get in vehicles like garbage trucks, police cars, and bulldozers. I overheard a black mother telling her son he didn’t need to be afraid of the ambulance. As she put it, ambulances, unlike police cars, come to help people.

I instinctively side with police. I feel for them with their terribly difficult job. But there is now a part of me that, at the heart level, also sympathizes with minorities and the very difficult life so many of them are forced to lead.

We get to know people by listening to their stories. We can do this in person or through a biography or memoir. However we do it, their experience can round out our perception of the world.

There is a time to protest, but we lose so much if we can’t dialogue with each other. We lose so much if our hearts and mind are only open to our tribe. What we wish others would do for us, we must do for others. It may be the only way we can knit the fabric of our society back together.

©2020 Catholic Anonymous

One thought on “How Can We Listen if Everyone is Yelling?

  1. I so agree with you. I like to learn from others. Like you I have dealt with many living in poverty. I was the wife in the challenging relationship. It is no more fortunately. I do try to understand others. I love listening to, discovering people’s stories.

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