|Cosmic Swirl by Barb Black|
for Black Ink Pad Designs
My Dear Fellow Humans,
I need to tell you some things. No, that’s not right. I need you to hear some things. Please.
You’ve been distressing me lately. I realize that some of that is on me and my proclivity to take the weight of everybody’s anger and outrage as something I can change, something I should be responsible for even though I can’t and I’m not. The truth is, nobody can make you feel anything. You feel what you feel and you are in charge of your reactions to what you feel. Regardless, as I’ve watched the world crumble all over again in the past few days, I feel hurt -- not by any arrows that might have been aimed at me, but by the overall vitriol being flung about. So, I need for you to set it all aside for just a minute and listen. Listen without having, “but…” or, “actually…”, or “well, in my opinion…” waiting on your tongue. Just listen.
Imagine we’re all at a party. I’ll host; welcome to my living room. Kick off your shoes, pour yourself a beverage, and help yourself to snacks. We don’t stand on pretense here -- make yourselves at home. We’ll cover some lightweight stuff for a bit -- the nice change the Fall air makes, how fast kids are growing up, a great restaurant we discovered. Pretty soon though, someone will bring up a topic that will spark some heat. At least one of you will disagree. Someone will say, “Now, wait a minute.” Or maybe, “That’s not how I see it.” There might be some fairly hearty debate. At no time do people begin calling each other names or making disparaging remarks about them based on race, religion, gender or political affiliation. Why? Because we’re all there together and we can see each other’s eyes and hear each other’s voices and understand the intentions behind what’s being said. We recognize each other as fellow humans, and in so doing, realize that we’re all going to have different ideals and levels of comfort and sensibilities. (Hey, it’s my party. Let me have this fantasy.)
At first we might think that Ted over there is a total asshole, until someone whispers, “I’ve never seen him like this. But, he just buried his mother last week, so I know he’s pretty on edge.” Suddenly we have sympathy for Asshole Ted. We probably even go up to him and say, “I heard about your Mom. I’m so sorry.” We see Ted soften, we see the heartbreak in his eyes. We understand that he’s barely hanging by a thread and maybe anger is the only emotion he can handle right now.
See Jane, sitting there next to Suit Guy? I know, she looks like a stuck up fashion plate. But, did you know? She had a double mastectomy two years ago. All that makeup and fashion and accessorizing is her way of saying she’s still here, still feminine. We almost lost her, so even if she laughs a little too loudly, it’s way better than not having her laughter here at all. And now we get that Jane is only trying to be part of the human race again after nearly being removed from it. We go over and tell her, “Hey, it’s nice to meet you. You have a great laugh.” Suit guy says, “Right? I’ve never met anyone so down to earth.”
There’s Bob, who bleeds red, white & blue, talking to Nina, who just became a citizen last year. She’s explaining the horror she lived through in her birth country and how her family sacrificed so she could move here and have a better life. She’s in tears as she tells him what it means to her to live here and to have the opportunities she now has. She tells him that she sends half her paycheck home every month to help her family. Bob clears his throat (because of allergies, no doubt) and asks if he can get her another drink. He’s proud that he lives in a country that others look to as a beacon of hope and of haven. He still thinks something should be done about illegal immigrants, because that’s what Bob believes. His belief doesn’t mean that he hates every foreigner; he’s just scared and he hasn’t had the chance to see what’s on the other side of his fear.
The Jew is telling the Catholic about the time he went to Rome over the holidays and how he ended up going to midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. The Catholic laughs and asks why he would do that. “I love the mystery that seems to surround a mass, and the music was particularly lovely. It really was an astounding experience.” The atheist standing near them chimes in, “I know what you mean! I love all that old architecture, and there’s something about Christmas music that always stirs me, even if I can’t get behind the belief system.” The Catholic stands there, mouth agape, but believing more firmly than ever that God is in everything and everyone. He doesn’t even realize that he just agreed with every Buddhist on the planet.
On the sofa sit a Baby Boomer, a Generation-Xer, and a Millennial. They’re talking about how much things have changed in 60 years. The Millennial wonders why we don’t just “get it” and let people be who they need to be. The Baby Boomer explains that today is very different from her growing up years, but her generation has done a lot of changing and growing, and they are trying. The Gen-Xer says, “For real! My Dad once said that gays deserved AIDS. Two years later I came out to him and he completely changed his tune.” The Millennial understands that they weren’t left a world in ruins, but a world on the cusp of real change and possibility.
There are thousands of conversations we need to have, but we need to acknowledge that a conversation is a two-way avenue. If you begin a conversation (and you often do so by stating an opinion), then be prepared to listen. Remember when we were young? “But Mom, why do I have to go to bed now?” “Because I said so, and that’s that.” End of conversation -- nothing answered or resolved. It wasn’t a conversation at all, but an edict. Remember how cheated we felt at not getting a reasonable explanation? And at not having our side of it heard? If only once Mom had said, “Tell me why you want to stay up. Why is it so important to you?” More often than not, my answer would have been, “Because I’m afraid I’ll miss out.”
At the heart of anger is fear. Usually that fear comes from the thought that whatever is happening, being done, being said, will somehow personally hurt or affect us. If we understood how rarely and how very little someone else’s views actually do that, we’d stop being so angry. Nobody can change us unless we allow them to.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with anger. As an emotion, it gets a bad rap. It’s actually a fairly useful emotion. It galvanizes us, true enough, but it’s also one of the bigger proofs of our weaknesses and strengths. If you only use your anger to shout at people and belittle those whose opinions and lives differ from yours, then you’re going about it all wrong. If you use your anger to take action, make phone calls, start a fundraiser, or even walk off into the woods until you can organize your thoughts, then you’re doing it right.
But, before we do anything, we need to listen. We need to listen and not simply dismiss. We need to understand the part we are playing in the conversation - are we truly making it a conversation, or are we nailing an edict to the wall? We need to listen and not simply throw answers back. We need to listen, and if we don’t understand, we need to say we don’t understand. Please explain how this hurts you. Please explain why this is so important to you. Please tell me what you’re doing to change it. Please tell me how we can work together to make this better.
I’m so glad you came to my party. It was nice to have you here. We should talk more often, and listen even more. Really. Please. I’m listening. Are you?