First, to settle this up front. I still call myself conservative.
I’m still with you on the importance of personal responsibility and limited government.
I’m still with you in contending that free market capitalism offers the best opportunity for everyone.
I’m still with you in advocating for the life of the unborn and holding that traditional families are the building block of our society.
I’m still with you in endorsing the freedom to express one’s faith and in believing that scripture, like the constitution, should be interpreted according to the authors’ original intent.
But as I’ve watched your various responses to the recent events in Charlottesville…
…as I’ve observed many of you simultaneously try to distance yourselves from the racist alt-right while also minimalizing it by pointing fingers at the media and the counter-protesters and their “inaccurate” understanding of confederate symbolism and historical facts…
…as I’ve witnessed you defend a typically no-holds-barred, “un-presidential,” unconcerned-with-facts leader as he suddenly became more reserved, “presidential,” and concerned with facts “on both sides” with this particular group…
I have to be honest…
Sorry, fellow white conservative males, I’ve got to separate myself on this.
In fact, it is my conservative belief…
…that the intent of the constitution was to give the right to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”
…that the intent of scripture was not only that you love God but also “love your neighbor as yourself”
…that absolutely demands it.
I know I may not be describing all of you in regards to your recent responses, but what I’m talking about is actually much bigger than just this one event.
I’ve observed it particularly over the last year and half.
I’ve observed it in your various responses to different events.
Perhaps it’s just gotten worse, or perhaps the problem’s been there all along and I’m just beginning now to wake up.
What I’m talking about is either your inability or absolute refusal to listen to and believe other people’s stories.
Research professor Brené Brown (famous for her studies on “shame” and “vulnerability”) discusses the importance of believing people’s stories in her recent Facebook live post (I highly recommend watching but also language warning).
What she means by believing people’s stories is that we believe their experiences as they tell them. She states, “You understand that the world that they see through their lens is as real and honest and truthful as the world that we see through our lens.”
She explains that it’s okay to have an opinion, but you cannot just dismiss “what other people experience and talk about as truth.”
To give a non-political example:
A few years ago, my daughter suffered through major depressive disorder, resulting in multiple stays in and out of the hospital. During that period, we went through several family counseling sessions.
I recall one particular session where my daughter and I were “communicating” back and forth. She had been acting out in ways that were self-destructive and outright dangerous, and I was attempting to explain my concerns.
She, in return, was trying to tell me how she felt controlled by me.
Finally, the counselor stopped us and pointed out that we were speaking two different languages. I was speaking from a language of “logic” and she was speaking from a language of “emotion.” Thus, we weren’t really communicating at all.
My concerns were very real and true.
But her feelings, based on ways I had been expressing myself, were very real and true as well.
In other words, we were unable to hear each other and, therefore, weren’t believing each other’s stories.
As a result, we were only hurting each other and ourselves.
And so I’ve made a commitment, though I don’t always get it right, to listening to and believing people’s stories.
That includes the world of politics as well.
Which means I’ve got to separate myself from you on this and start believing people’s stories…even when they’re from “the other side.”
That means I’ve got to believe it when non-whites tell how devastatingly painful it is to hear some of the verbiage from the Charlottesville marches as well as to listen to us so quickly dismiss their concerns when they cry out their lives matter.
It means I’ve got to believe African Americans when they share how disheartening it has been to gaze upon statues and flags, symbolic of a “bygone” era that dehumanized their value…regardless of our “historical facts.”
It means I’ve got to believe people of color when they say they’ve had experiences when they felt unfairly targeted just when driving down the road or walking down the street.
But it also means more than that.
It means I’ve got to believe a lady when she says “locker-room-talk” cannot be so easily dismissed in her mind as “boys being boys” when it brings up painful memories of circumstances that tried to rob her of her worth.
It means I’ve got to believe a hard-working woman who claims she has to work twice as hard to break the ceiling and feel any sense of value in this world.
It means I’ve got to believe the overwhelming fears of a young girl when she finds herself pregnant and sees her dreams and prospects begin to dim in a cold, judgmental world that seems to offer little support.
It means I’ve got to believe a person who says they feel attracted to the same sex not by choice, and that they’re simply trying to find the kinds of intimacy and escape from of loneliness we all seek.
It means I’ve got to believe someone who reveals they’ve felt in the wrong gender body their whole life, and when they go into the bathroom of the gender on their birth-certificate, it feels excruciatingly uncomfortable and out of place.
It means I’ve got to believe a desperate immigrant father when he pleads coming here under whatever circumstances was the only way he could feed his wife and children and keep them safe.
It means I’ve got to believe a neighbor Muslim family that claims they love the freedoms our country offers and just want to live side by side in peace.
It means I’ve got to believe a person who passionately loves nature and this planet when they cry out they are just trying to keep this world beautiful and make it last a little longer for our kids.
And so, my fellow white conservative males, I’ve got to separate myself on this…by listening to people’s deepest beliefs within their hearts.
But to my friends on the “Left,” this is important for you to hear as well:
This “experiment” in listening only works best if you start believing other people’s stories, too.
That means you’ve got to believe a person who says that when we topple statues and remove flags it’s like erasing history, both good and bad, and when we do that it feels like erasing parts of ourselves.
It means you’ve got to believe a police officer that tells you that their dangerous job that often requires hard, split-second decisions is worth it because they’re here to serve you…and all they ask in return is a little respect and to have their back.
It means you’ve got to believe a white male when they claim it get tiring to always feel blamed; and when you always assume ill intentions, it damages their sense of worth.
It means you’ve got to believe it when a person shares with you that when it comes to a hidden, newly fertilized egg or a one-year old baby you get hold in your arms, they love them both dearly and see them as one and the same.
It means you’ve got to believe a baker or a photographer who cries out to you that to go against their core convictions ravages their soul to their inner most being and risks alienating their relationship with the God who rescued them and whom they call their very best friend.
It means you’ve got to believe a woman when she opens up to you, because of horrific experiences she should have never gone through, that the thought of a man entering her restroom makes her feel vulnerable and frightened…in what was one of the few remaining places she considered safe.
It means you’ve got to believe an American-born father when he tells you he’s concerned about where his next job might even come from and that law and order is the only way he sees to feed his family and keep them safe.
Now to be clear, believing people’s stories does not mean you have to agree with the solutions they offer, or that you must accept that their perspective matches complete reality, or that listening to them requires that you subject yourself to abuse.
It just means their story is as real and honest and truthful to them as yours is to you.
During my daughter’s depression, she harbored a distorted, unrealistic perspective of herself as she was unable to see herself for the amazing, beautiful person that she is. And the solutions she was seeking were only self-destructive. Thus, my wife and I could certainly not agree to the choices she was making.
However, it was not until I began to get outside myself and hear her from her perspective that we were able to effectively communicate with each other and let the real healing begin.
And so I’ve had to learn to listen.
For me that means, my fellow white conservative males (as well as friends from all perspectives and different lives), I don’t just get to arrogantly write off other people’s stories, insisting mine is the only one that can be true.
It means I don’t get to dismiss others by always accusing them of having some kind of secret, conspiratorial agenda.
I don’t get to stay in my own echo chamber, continually enjoying just the sound of my voice and others like me.
And I don’t get to label people with whom I disagree with disparaging names – a childish and lazy way of avoiding having to listen to another person’s story.
But unfortunately, most of us don’t tend to operate in the mode of listening to or believing people’s stories. Instead we tend to operate from positions of power.
By having power we get to control whose voice is heard.
This is why on college campuses throughout the nation, those who once felt powerless seek to silence the speech of others with power.
This is why we use labels like “snowflake” or “bigot” or “libtard” or “…phobic” as a quick fix means of gaining power over the stories of others.
This is why we introduce both “fake news” and strawman arguments – because it becomes a means of disempowering other’s experiences by changing their true narrative.
And this is why our elections and politics are not about finding real solutions but about putting strong men, or women, in place who will give our voice the upper advantage.
If there was one phrase I could use to describe the election this last year and all the events both proceeding and following it, it is “You’re not listening!”
And so we seek to make sure that our voices are heard the loudest.
But making your voice the loudest only results in shouting matches and vitriol and protest marches that sometimes turn violent.
And, as in the case of Charlottesville, can sometimes result in the loss of life…a vibrant, valuable person’s story snuffed out for good.
Like my daughter and myself who found it impossible to listen, we are hurting ourselves and each other.
And as goes the oft-quoted phrase, when people continue in patterns of self-destructive cycles…
“How’s that working for you?”
I don’t know about you, but it’s no longer working for me…and never really did.
What works is courageous conversations.
What works is courageous listening…
…to make sure everyone knows their story is heard.
Then, and only then, can you begin to develop new and workable solutions.
And so I’ve got to separate myself from the way I once was by making sure I’m actively believing and listening. And I sure hope you all will join me.
Thanks for hearing my story.
What’s your story? I’d love to hear it. Please feel free to share in the comments section below. And for anyone who wishes to give feedback on another person’s story, while you are allowed to respectfully disagree on their solutions, I require that you must acknowledge you heard that person’s story first before I approve your own comments.