What would happen if we all just stopped? If we could just for one day, one hour, or minute just stop to listen to one another? Could we listen with an open heart and really acknowledge what someone else is saying? Not with a “yes, but…” ready to go, that tells our friend or fellow citizen that we aren’t truly listening, that we still want to prove them wrong and ourselves right. Just listen silently and allow their feelings to matter and be enough.
This week, following the latest in a seemingly endless series of heartbreaking violence and loss, a friend of mine wrote an essay about tensions between the black community and the police. My friend is an African American woman who has spent her adult life working for causes of social justice, mostly for LGBT citizens. She is respected nationwide for her outstanding work, and I’ve said many times that she is one of the most articulate and intelligent people I’ve ever known.
I say all of this, not to flatter her or to build her up for anyone’s benefit. I say this because, for all the years of friendship, knowing so many things about each other’s lives, work and families, I feel as if I have truly listened to her story and feel it in my heart for the first time.
I read her unflinchingly honest assessment of my profession and my heart hurt. I wanted to stop, to turn away, to say, “yes, but…”
Then, I realized that I had no choice. As painful as the critical analysis was, she had infused the piece with such personal experiences that my discomfort became necessary. A necessary part of understanding my friend viscerally for the first time. She told of her great-grandfather’s lynching, aided by the county sheriff, and I sadly recalled the night she was injured during an unnecessary arrest early in our friendship. Her crime being a black lesbian speaking out for justice.
This is a person who might have every reason to join some group advocating for anti-cop rhetoric, but no. She takes us to task frankly and without apology, because we need to hear these truths. But then my friend does something amazing in our world of taunts and jabs and blame—she offers thoughtful, balanced solutions, that address realities on both sides. That’s what a real leader is supposed to do. I cannot be anything but humbled by her words and I urge you to read them as well.
So, I am sharing my friend’s thoughts because they matter. I don’t have to understand completely how she feels; I can’t because I cannot walk in her shoes. But, I share them because they are her truth and her truth is enough.
There is no “yes, but…”