Listen

First, this has nothing to do with Doctor Who. Sorry!

Second, a disclaimer. This post is not directed at anyone in particular. Given it’s nature, practically everyone I know might be able to think it is directed at them, but I promise, it is not. It is something that applies to me as much as to the rest of my species.

 

There are good kinds of silence: quieting the internal voices, seeking peace, beautiful natural stillness, not speaking poison.

This post is not about that kind of silence.

Let me get my bias out of the way. I was raised to see the benefit of open honesty. Not cruel honesty, for there is such a thing, but openness.

Not to speak about evil gives it power.

Not to denounce injustice is silent acquiescence.

Not to speak about experience deprives others of information and deprives the speaker of the chance to hear differing perspectives.

That is what I believe.

 

Sometimes I encounter people who resent the freedom of speech afforded to others. Either someone expresses opinions they do not like, and they take offense, or they simply despise the people who speak. And most (if not all) people do one or both of these sometimes.

It is helpful to remember this: If you want to speak your mind, protect the right of others to speak theirs. When that right is taken from someone, it can, and probably will, be taken from you. Tables turn, and the way you treat others may dictate how they treat you.*

 

Even if someone supports freedom of speech, though, there will still be times when they resent someone’s use of it. It may seem, to some, that I am just stating the obvious, but keep going. Obvious or not, we all seem to miss the point sometimes.

For all the commonalities in humanity, each experience is unique. We (people) like to categorize and simplify others, it is a survival technique, a way to make swift judgements, when necessary. And it is a technique that gets us into all kinds of trouble. It tricks us into thinking we know more about a person than we really do. We make assumptions.

Ignorance, prejudice, and xenophobia are bad. Assumptions both stem from and feed into these evils.

Some people, knowing from personal experience (or learning from others) the damage done by certain assumptions, are able to overcome those assumptions. But often these people, the ones who “know better,” propagate a different set of stereotypes.

For the sake of clarity, let’s say person A is seen by person B, and person B makes an ignorant or prejudiced assumption about person A. Then person C comes along and, seeing B’s judgement of A, C makes judgements about B.  This is the simple form. It could become a prejudice dodecahedron, with 12 people, each making assumptions about 11 others until we have something like 132 assumptions in play (I am bad at math, so don’t trust me on the numbers).

But let’s keep it simple. A <-prejudice- B <-prejudice- C

Of all the questions or soap-box speeches I could raise, I will stick to this one, for now:

What benefit will there be if A, B, or C remain silent and/or dismiss what the other says because of the assumptions they make?

Am I insane to think that the ONLY way people grow and learn and become less prejudiced is by making mistakes, making assumptions that are then challenged, and putting their feet firmly in their mouths and then being confronted? Should they be invalidated/dismissed/stereotyped because they make mistakes, or happen to disagree with you about something?

The thing that frustrates me most is that so many people agree with this in principle, but forget that it cuts both ways. They know that the groups they identify with, or sympathize with, are unfairly stereotyped by others, but forget the hard truth that the group or “attribute” that they love to hate is included.

Let me be clear: We are all guilty. If you think you aren’t, then you need to take a long, honest look at yourself and your biases.

It feels good to be “right.” It feels good to despise someone else, to pity them, or to hate them. It is painful, sometimes excruciating, to admit we are wrong, and to consider the value of someone we love to hate.

The hard truth is that we all harbor prejudice. Every last one of us. The trick is to be honest enough with ourselves to find it, and determined enough to fight it.

I’m making myself crazy writing this. The problem is ubiquitous, within me as well as without, an infernal game of whack-a-mole. It seems too massive to even be faced, especially as the current social climate is increasingly divisive. I have to focus smaller, to remember that every little bit helps. So, if you or I take anything away from this ramble, let it be this:

Humanity contains more variety than we can grasp. We never really know as much about a person as we like to think. And, finally, that people should speak. Ignorance and prejudice cannot be discovered, confronted, or defeated by silence.  Understanding cannot grow in the absence of information.

And speaking does no good if we are not willing to overcome our prejudices and listen.

 


* If you live in a country where freedom of speech is suppressed, or nonexistent, I hope policy, or practice, or both will soon change.

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About jubilare

Just another tree in the proverbial forest. Look! I have leaves! View all posts by jubilare

12 responses to “Listen

  • Deborah Makarios

    There’s the silence that means we aren’t talking about things, and then there’s the light inconsequential chatter – that also means we aren’t talking about things!
    It takes both courage and tact to call someone out on something in a way that is helpful and constructive, rather than putting them on the defensive. Tricky.

  • stephencwinter

    This is a really powerful piece in a week in which 11 journalists and the lone police officer tasked with giving them protection were murdered in Paris for writing a satirical piece on the prophet Mohammed. I, myself, would not choose to use my freedom to make fun of someone’s faith, but increasingly I recognise that maturity means giving space to the freedom of others even when they use that freedom to laugh at things I hold precious. I even think that when I listen to the mockery of others regarding the Christian faith that I hold dear that it often contains elements of uncomfortable truth regarding delusions into which I may have fallen. In Britain you get plenty of opportunity to listen to mockery of the Christian faith in the popular media and to put this into practice!
    The early Church Fathers loved the word, Parrhesia, which they understood to be the freedom that our first parents had to speak to God face to face before the Fall and which, they believed, is restored to us in Christ. They saw this as a joyous gift by which we could stand boldly before God and be utterly and entirely ourselves and also offer our work to God with pride just as their work in Eden was offered. Ever since I heard the news from Paris I have been wondering what my response should be. I think for me it means to grow in the joyous boldness and freedom of speech that is Parrhesia and I grateful to you for confirming that for me.

    • jubilare

      “I, myself, would not choose to use my freedom to make fun of someone’s faith,” nor I, though I am horrified that these people were killed for choosing to do so.

      I know it’s worse in the U.K., but despite outward appearances, our faith gets mocked and ridiculed pretty mercilessly here in the U.S., too. I think there is a push to force us either into isolation, or out of Christianity, and not all Christians are wise enough to avoid the false dichotomy.
      ^_^ Parrhesia… that is a good word, and new to me! Thank you!

  • stephencwinter

    On Parrhesia there is a wonderful chapter in Thomas Merton’s book, “The New Man”. Merton draws a distinction between the Promethean myth with its underlying message that if you want the fire you have to steal it from the gods but watch out for the consequences with the Christian teaching that God sends the fire of the Spirit as a gift.
    I agree with you about the dichotomy and I would rather have our challenge of ridicule than the threat our brethren face in the Middle East from Islamist extremists.

  • Stephanie Orges

    I’m often afraid of making things worse by opening my mouth. I’m a writer, not a talker, and it’s hard for me to come up with the right words extemporaneously, especially before I’ve had time to process whatever I’m hearing, that may be causing the prejudice. I think in those cases, people need to ask questions rather than make statements, to try to get to the bottom of what someone meant, or why they believe it.

    The most controversial issues today, like gay marriage and abortion, ultimately boil down to one tiny difference in a core belief, yet most of the arguments people get into are concerned with the results of that belief, rather than the belief itself. Then it just descends into defensiveness, hurt feelings and hatred. Things get more muddled and nobody wins.

    Do you ever listen to Dennis Prager? He’s a talk radio guy, and one of his mottos is “clarity over agreement.” Rather than arguing with people, he asks very pointed questions that cut quickly to the heart of the disagreement, makes it clear what each party believes, and leaves it at that.

    • jubilare

      Writing falls under what I mean when I say we shouldn’t be silent. A lot of our communication ends up in print, and it’s not only a valid medium, it’s an indispensable one! But I agree about asking questions. Everything you say is spot-on.

      It’s the fear of that tangle of misunderstanding and hurt feelings, though, that causes some people to be silent when their voices really need to be heard. It can be hard to find a balance, especially when most internet debates get absolutely nowhere. If one person, though, has a lightbulb moment where a new idea or perspective breaks in on them, then the words spoken haven’t been in vain. At least, that’s how I feel about the matter.

      I rarely listen to talk radio, and if I’ve heard Prager, I’m not aware of it. That’s a powerful talent, though. Sometimes we are not even aware of what our beliefs really are, or what their implications might be.

      • Stephanie Orges

        Ah, you’re right. I tend to feel more pressed to say something in person, though. And I have a rule against arguing with people online unless I think I can guide someone to one of those “lightbulb” moments. If I feel from the start that no one is willing to change their opinions, I try to let it be. Yet there could be a danger in letting it be too often.

        I rarely listen to Prager now, since he’s on in the middle of the day when I’m working .But our conversation about your job made me think of him, too. Every Labor Day he asks people to call in and just tell him about their jobs. And he always knows how to ask the most interesting questions.

        • jubilare

          It’s a hard line to walk, to be sure. I’ve done my fair share of bashing my head against an argument or discussion that isn’t going to go anywhere. I’ve learned to back off, though sometimes I still have to be careful when I choose to speak. Too much or too little? And how can we know for sure? But I do believe that sharing experiences (very different from arguing) and showing a point of view, are valuable things. You don’t have to let yourself be drawn into arguments that develop so long as your only point is that this is your experience and your take on things. No one who understands logic at all can tell you how you feel. ;)

          That is quite a talent! And quite a story-idea, for that matter.

          • Stephanie Orges

            Good point. So much is in the attitude you use to express yourself. Sometimes I think deciding not to say something helps me listen better – I mean, because my brain power isn’t taken up with formulating my response, I actually stop to think about the other person’s point of view and why they feel that way. After that, I suppose, would be the time to respond.

          • jubilare

            Mm… you have a point, there. Listening does seem to be a cultivated rather than a natural skill, and it takes effort.

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