Annie Sullivan is remembered for opening the mind’s eye of the blind. In October, I got to watch one of my former students perform in “The Miracle Worker” as Kate Keller. The play by William Gibson is a moving and powerful exploration of Helen Keller’s struggle to be able to find language, but more importantly a way to connect with her world.
Most of us live with the blessing of being able to speak and hear. We can converse and talk. Social media keeps us busy with tweets and posts, our phones buzz from texts, emails, and calls. But in the midst of all the communication, I wonder if we have lost connection.
Connection has been a pursuit of mine for the last several years. I struggle with overpowering people, obstinately holding to my beliefs and opinions. I allow opposing ideas to threaten me instead of sharpening me. I don’t remember when I began to realize that my relationships suffered from my lack of respect for contrary thought, but I made, and continue to make, learning how to connect with others, regardless of how different they are, a priority.
I admit that I am still woefully deficient in this area. A lot of the reason stems from my passion for the things that I hold dear. My beliefs and preferences are not mere whims. They are things that I have fought for and developed over the twenty-seven years of my life. I realize that’s not a great deal of time, but my opinions and standards are precious to me, so much so that I often fall into the trap of identifying myself by a system, philosophy, or association, instead of my relationship with Christ.
Despite my weakness in this area, I have learned that connection can be improved by listening, something I try hard to practice. One of the reasons I love the Meisner approach to acting is because it trains actors to really listen and really talk. It’s amazing how the repetition exercise can change the way you relate to people.
Why do I bring this up? Why spend a post on this? I think we all can agree that listening is an important skill. No one says “Don’t listen to others. That’s a waste of time.”
I wanted to write about listening because of tomorrow.
Tomorrow is election day.
A lot of horrible things of happened during this election. There is so much I could talk about, but what I really want to explore is the loss of connection and the utter lack of listening.
One of the things that have saddened me the most are the relationships that have been destroyed by the political season. I’ve read far too many posts about unfriending and unfollowing on social media because of virtual brawls over which candidate was worse and who was stupider for their voting decisions.
I’ve tried to have discussions with friends. Some have worked and been beneficial, but most have gone nowhere, because there was a refusal from everyone involved to shut up long enough to listen, really listen, to another person, regardless of whether they disagreed with their thoughts.
I’ve seen posts degenerating groups of people that the writer doesn’t even know because of their political affiliation, candidate endorsement, or policy belief.
I’ve listened to rants against groups of people that the speaker has no personal connection to, only news reports from their favorite channel.
This happens on all sides. My die-hard Republican friends cannot, and often will not, try to understand how anyone can vote for a woman they consider to be corrupt, a liar, a rape enabler, and responsible for the deaths of four American servicemen. For them, she is the worst option.
Most of my other friends cannot understand how anyone could consider Trump a better option than Ms. Clinton when they consider him to be a sexist, racist, unqualified, bigoted, failed businessman.
From what I’ve seen, it seems like there has been lots of name calling and attempts to bully and guilt others into voting for the “right” candidate and little attempt on either side to understand why anyone is voting for the “wrong” candidate.
I wish there would be more attempts to connect. I don’t want our culture to decide that whatever someone thinks or believes is okay. Challenging ideas that you believe are dangerous, immoral, and evil is a good thing, a necessary thing, but we’ve gotten so used to labeling people that we assume they hold to certain ideas for reasons that are offensive to us.
This assumption means that we jump past listening and go right to hounding each other with what we believe is right, and, if we aren’t careful, the disagreements can become so bitter and sharp that friendships are lost and connection broken.
I have friends who are going to vote for Hillary, friends who are going to vote for Trump, friends who are going to vote third party, friends who are writing someone in, and probably some friends that won’t vote at all. I’ve tried my best to listen to why they are voting the way they are, and while I don’t agree with them all, our relationship has not been broken because of a political disagreement, no matter how severe it is.
In order to have connection with others, we have to be willing to listen to them. In order to be able to challenge others and ourselves, we have to respect a person enough to hear out what brought them to a specific conclusion. Individuals buy into rhetoric and beliefs for all sorts of reason. Even if you think a specific idea is evil, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person who is holding to it understands it as evil and is okay with that.
Hear them out, find out why they believe what they believe because if you don’t, you can’t really effectively challenge them anyway. There are reasons people are putting aside the baseness of Trump and voting for him that are not full of hate. There are reasons people are putting aside the corruption of Hillary and voting for her that are not full of stupidity.
But you’ll never know if you accuse instead of ask.
I am all for hearty disagreement and discussion. It’s part of what helps us as individuals grow and shape our understanding of our world, but that can only be done if we listen and connect before we speak.
Leo, the Late Bloomer who inspires me so much, struggled with many things: writing, reading, eating, drawing, and even speaking.
And, he never said a word. – Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus
By the end of the book he had learned how to talk, which is wonderful! The ability of communication is a great gift, as I think Helen Keller would attest to.
But if Leo had only learned to talk his growth would have been stunted. In order to be able to really connect, one must also learn to listen.
Here’s hoping that after the election, people’s blood will cool, and we will find ways to come together as family, friends, neighbors, and fellow humans, and learn to connect despite our differences, to be able to challenge ideas that must be challenged without attacking the individual, by learning how to listen.