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Everybody’s Talking at Me, I Don’t Hear a Word They’re Saying

I have watched and listened to the events of the last week, trying to make sense of what’s going on. And what I have realized that the root to many of our problems is that most people do not listen to one another. We are so hell bent on giving our opinion, stating our perspectives, that we never listen to other people’s opinions or see their perspectives.

We mainly listen to people only if they reaffirm our firmly held beliefs, and if they don’t, we wait for an opening to respond so we can discredit their opinion and perspective, and prove that ours is superior. In short, we engaged in intellectual debates where we don’t learn anything. We never expand our knowledge, or understanding, or perspective, because we do not listen. We assume we are right and they are wrong.

In a conversation between a genius and a fool, who learns more? The genius, of course. The fool remains a fool because he cannot learn even when speaking to a genius. The genius is a genius because he can learn, even when speaking with a fool. This is why our political debates seem so foolish.

No matter how foolish you believe the person you are speaking with is, or how inane you believe his opinions are, there is something to learn from them. The opinions we disagree with the most, are the greatest opportunities to learn. There are plenty of opportunities to learn from one another through this, if we are willing to listen, and try to understand everyone’s point of view. No matter how right you think you are, the other person also has a perspective that’s worthwhile, that could be helpful.

People have been chanting “Black Lives Matter”, and others have responded, “All Lives Matter”. Both sides take offense at the others claim of which lives matter. Saying, “black lives matter” does not mean that non-black lives don’t matter; And saying, “all lives matter” does include black lives. All these statements are affirmations that all human life is valuable and should be protected. Why do we refuse to see that? We are all human beings. We all value human life. I don’t see the problem, unless we are looking to create a problem.

There are people who don’t value life. The Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd obviously doesn’t value life. The man who murdered the women who lives down the street from me last week, does not value life. But those people do not represent anyone other than themselves, so why do we act as if they do? Why do we shout at each other as if the person we are shouting at was the one kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, or the man who fired six bullets into the woman down the street?

Statements like, “systemic discrimination”, “institutionalize racism”, and “the system has to change” have been shouted loudly. We would agree that there is a consensus in our country that racism and discrimination in all forms are evil and should be eradicated. The problem is that these terms are very non-specific. If there is “systemic racism” in our country, how is it manifested? I’m not denying that it doesn’t exist, I’m just asking to be specific. Point out where.

Examples of “systemic racism” in our nation’s history were the Jim Crow laws, separate but equal, MLB’s color barrier, segregation. We did away with all of those over 60 years ago. They no longer exist. That is not to say, that there aren’t others laws which codify “systemic racism” in existence today. Maybe there are. I can’t think of any. So, it is important to be specific in our communication by pointing out the law or the rule that is racist, so we have a target to go after, and we can spend our time, energy and anger tearing down those laws instead of buildings, and each other.

No one seems to be able to or want to point out where racism has been codified into our laws, and maybe that’s why the anger and violence has been directed so randomly, and so encompassing. If someone could identify where this “institutional racism” lives, I believe there would be an overwhelming unity to fight it and eradicate it because people of all races are tired and fed-up with innocent people dying and our cities burning.

This is the time to be specific, not general, to be targeted in our response, not random. Throwing out clichés, slogans, and divisive rhetoric is the intellectual equivalent of throwing rocks, sticks and Molotov cocktails. They are not solutions. They make our problems worse, our divisions wider. We, as a country, can come together if we actually speak to each other, listen to each other, communicate, and not excoriate.

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