First: Listen

This is attempt number 4. I’m sticking with this one.

There are two challenging things to teach young preschoolers, who have fledgling social experience and skills due to their age. In a time of “conflict” with another friend, these are stop and listen. Stop moving . Make eye contact and listen. Everyone has words they want to use, usually to defend their own position. Usually there is some worry or fear thrown in too. Worry they may have knowingly or unknowingly done something wrong. Fear, perhaps, that part of personal accountability may be one of those things called a “consequence”. Fear and worry are defense mechanisms. We all experience them.

Turn on the news and people use lots and lots of words. But, it seems to me, many of the words come from fear and defensive posturing rather than in response to listening.

When you listen you gain the opportunity for discovery and understanding. Discovery and understanding do not mean agreement and acceptance. They means you have the chance to learn something you did not know.

And then, you can have a conversation.

The usual reason for stop and listen, for a preschooler, is that they hurt someone’s feelings, took something without asking, or hit someone. When they stop and listen, they hear “You said I couldn’t play with you, it makes me sad.”, “You took the shovel I was using may I have it back?”, “You hit me and hurt my body. That’s not OK. Don’t do it again.” Most of the time the child listening really doesn’t grasp the cause and effect of what they did, and now they do. Usually the hurt person just wants a hug, a show of care and compassion from the other person, and confirmation that next time will be better.

Things most certainly become more complicated as we grow up.

I went to a Black Lives Matter protest because I am concerned and care deeply that a part of our American population, the Black community, is suffering so deeply. I go to meetings on Autism  becasue I care about the struggles and pain people who are Autistic experience as they work so hard to find a meaningful place in society. A place of acceptance and where they can feel valued. I go to meetings on Child Abuse becasue I care that there are children who suffer deeply from abusive situations. I go, and I listen to learn. I cannot offer much, because Autism and Child Abuse are not areas I have much training in or experience with. But both affect part of the community I work with, preschoolers.

I went to a Black Lives Matter protest to listen. I do not know what it is like to be Black in America. I don’t. Just like I don’t know what it is like to be Autistic or a survivor of abuse. I do not know. They are a part of my community and the quality of their lives and the degree of their suffering affect the community I live in.

I can only become a more educated person through listening. Going to a protest is not saying I don’t care about something else. Caring about the oppression of one group of people does not mean I don’t care about a group that faces different forms of challenges, risk, oppression or suffering.

So, I heard stories of pain and fear. Pain and fear affect people. These are traumatic emotions that scar and are difficult to overcome.The consequences of fear and pain change the way people respond in life. The way they interact with and live life.

I have never, in 58 years of life experienced the level of pain and fear that was shared. Yes, I have felt pain and I have experienced fear, but not on the same level of magnitude where I fear for my life and safety and for the life and safety of my loved ones. I have never experienced that.

Bruce and I were stopped for a significant traffic violation a while back. We did not pull over into the opposite lane when a police officer was stopped with their lights on and out of the car. When we were pulled over we were asked for the registration it was taking time to  find it in the mess of the glove compartment. Finally he said,”It’s okay. Go ahead. Be careful next time.” We both understood, for real, “This is white privilege.” Personally, we both felt ashamed and embarrassed.

I  have no right to assume I know what someone’s life is like. Whether their struggles are real or not. I have no right to judge someone’s pain and suffering, anger and fear without listening first. I have no right to make a suggestion or offer advice until I listen first. I do have the choice of asking someone to tell me what they are experiencing, feeling. What life is like for them on a daily basis. I do have a choice of asking what do they need, what will make things better, healthier, safer for them.

As an educated adult, I have a responsibility that I take seriously, to never assume I know the answers or that I know all I need to know. I have a responsibility to keep listening, learning, developing, becoming more knowledgeable, informed, aware. Not less. Not even the same. More.

I have a personal responsibility to understand I may have to admit that I have been wrong. Uninformed.  That I may learn things about myself and my society that I would rather not know, let alone accept as fact.

So, I listened. And I listened and heard that I do not understand the struggle of the Black Community in Ithaca and in the US. It does not cause harm to me or diminish me to say this. It is just the truth. I do not understand. “Do all Blacks share in this struggle?” Is that the correct question? No. “Why is anyone suffering in this way?” is the question. That anyone struggles and suffers is the issue.

When I listen, it becomes difficult to lay the blame on the victim. It becomes difficult to say “She deserved it”, “They asked for it”, “They are just ‘takers'”, “They’ve got to work harder”, “How bad could it be? They have a cell phone”, “If she didn’t sleep with so many people she wouldn’t have so many kids”, “They need to just buck up and try harder”, “That’s the choice they made. They have to live with it”, “My Black friends say this isn’t true”, “I made it. They could too, if they wanted to”, “They are lazy”, “If they wanted to stop drugs, they would”, “There are lots of jobs out there they could do”, “If they are so poor how can they go on vacation?”.

Do not blame victims. Listen to them. Talk with them.

I don’t know the answers. I feel conflicted. I am confused. I have the ability to work to find out what the answers are, or might be and how to make them happen. I have the strength to look at why I feel conflicted and change it to being informed. I can embrace confusion without embarrassment and ask for conversations so I can be clear on what is the truth. Not my truth. The truth for the person I am listening to and engaging in a conversation with. I must have many conversations and listen to many, many stories because each one will be different. This is not one person’s story or one person’s interpretation.

I care and I am grateful I care. Because not caring is apathy and apathy allows for things to remain the same. And now, for me, the same is not something that is ok with me if it means we are stereotyping, marginalizing, oppressing, killing people out of fear and ignorance.

We are going to have to look inward and then open our hearts and work together to make things better. To make things right.

 

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