Who Are You Going to Hear?


I almost lost it the other day. For a moment the tears were so thick, I could not see. I was standing in a room talking to someone who had lost custody of a child. She felt alone. She felt isolated. She had wondered if suicide was the answer. After deciding against actively killing herself, she wondered if she could just stop eating and let nature take its course. She had not done that, thanks to her support system. Yet here she was, crying and alone. I leaned in, and said, “I see you.” I’m about to cry now, not tears of sorrow but sacred tears. I leaned as close as I dared and said, “you are not alone. I see you.” It was a divine moment; one that I am thankful to God to have been allowed to participate in with him.

One counselor I am coming to love says that the job of the pastor is “beholding.” The message of the pastor is this “I see you. I hear you. Not some imagined you, but the real you.” Witness. This is the divine in action. The divine in being.

This is no easy task. We live in a cacophonous world. There are voices all around, all day, all night. They never stop pleading for our attention. It is hard to think. Hard to hear beyond the static. We need help sometimes; but more than anything else we need to learn how to separate the noise and hone in on certain voices. We need selective hearing to survive long.

Most of us do this without even thinking. Daniel Pinker, the brain researcher, says we make calls on who to listen to, and believe in something like 2 seconds. Our brain has created a processing-system and uses it efficiently. Some might say too efficiently to be effective.

Take Ferguson. For months I was confused by my friends who talked about Brown attacking Wilson, and charging him. I could not for the life of me figure out why they were saying this. I had read many of the witness testimonies as this did not jibe with what they had said (even if what they said was at times contradictory and questionable). Then the grand jury testimony was released and I figured it out. This story came from Wilson, this was his take on the encounter. Then I realized what had happened.

My selective hearing was attuned and set to the wavelength of the blacks of Ferguson. I had placed my faith and trust in their at times contradictory testimony. I had noted the contradictions and allowed that their story might be flawed; yet, I had chosen to take their testimony as a reasonable facsimile of what happened.

Many of my friends were attuned to the voices of the authorities: Wilson, the police, the DA, etc.I don’t know if they had noticed that these statements also had subtle and not-so-subtle contradictions; but even if they had, they had chosen to accept the police account, warts and all.

Both of us shrugged our shoulders and opined that no one would ever really know what happened. Yet that is where our similarities ended. In this battle of contesting voices, I chose to hear those of the African-American community. I privileged their thoughts and sought to ease out any contradictions in that story. My friends chose to hear the words of the authorities. They privileged the voice of Wilson, and edged out any contradictions in his testimony with a shrug.

Where does this leave us? A bunch of people talking over each others heads. All cacophony. No symphony. So what can we do?

1) We can come clean and own up to our preferences. To be honest I would feel better of I heard others saying, “I believe Wilson. That’s me. I believe that unless there are grave contradictions that I cannot justify, i tend to side with police, and other local authorities” Just say it. Be honest. Own it. “This is me.” This is the first step to bringing the words down out of orbit beyond each others ability to hear. This will allow me to hold more internally valid opinions.

2) We can learn to analyze our inclinations. Does my tendency to hear the words of the underdog, mean that I might be missing an important part of the story? Could I be jumping to conclusions? How can I bring both testimonies together and compare them looking not for which one I want to believe; but asking which one rings truer and fuller; or do I need to moderate the two into a synthesis. These questions may not solve the problem; but will allow me to hold my externally valid opinions.

3) I can seek the other out and tell myself to listen and evaluate their statements fairly. I can give them the benefit of the doubt I give me and mine. I can seek to understand their statements in context so as to better evaluate them.

4) Last I can ask myself how I would feel if the roles were reversed. If this was a black cop acting this way with a white female, would I value and hear the story differently (this by the way is an easy question to jump through and say “sure I would not.” But we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard which really does question itself).

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