Deep within us all is the desire to be heard. When we are heard, we are known. And where we are known is where we find belonging. Belonging comes in all shapes and sizes, and cannot be contained in a box. I find belonging in my religion, in my family and through learning. Others find belonging in artistic expression, athletic ability, race, sexual orientation or gender. Belonging is not a moral concept. We can’t help but feel as if we belong in certain places because those are the places that listened. Instead, morality is the choice we make to trade the feeling of fleeting belonging for a fuller experience of belonging. While this may seem vague, my point is that we should not look down on people for feeling that they belong.
America has just elected its new president, and I think the idea of listening and belonging matter now more than ever before in my lifetime. For the past two years, our country has been in increasing social unrest. There is a cultural paradox that the louder people yell, the less they are heard. Likewise, the harder they work, the more dignity and rights are taken from them. What is the point of freedom if it doesn’t give us a voice that makes a difference? Who is being represented by the government or in culture? Who is listening to us Americans? Do we even belong in our own country?
It is time to listen to these questions. They are coming from different people groups and communities, and we do ourselves a disservice as a country to push the questions under the rug in the name of “unity.” We have rejected informed thinking and contemplative conversation and traded it in for cheap entertainment and tabloid remarks about politicians. No wonder a populist candidate just got elected by waging war on the elites. But all hope is not lost for true listening and conversation.
Now that the election season has ended, it is time for Americans of all kinds to grab coffee with each other and listen. Seriously listen. If you are upset with people for voting for Trump or Clinton, ask them why they voted that direction and listen to their answer. If you still fly a Confederate flag, sit down with a Black Lives Matters protestor and ask them how they perceive racism in culture today. We can continue to protest until we are blue in the face or silently ridicule those different from us in the comfort of our living rooms or church auditoriums, but until we face our issues head on as a nation, we will not have true unity.
I believe listening takes an amount of courage we often underestimate. Real conversation requires you to listen respectfully to the opinions of those you strongly disagree with and then respectfully respond with a contemplative, empathetic and educated presentation of your own thoughts. Even more so, it requires you to walk into a conversation humbly enough to believe you have something to learn from everyone. And get this, real conversation even requires you to be willing to admit you might be wrong.
My hope is to use this blog to bring different perspectives that would inspire this genuine conversation with others. Social media platforms should be inspiration for real conversations, not substitutes for them. So follow along with me in my Conversation Project and seek to have a genuine conversation with an unlikely acquaintance this week that will both motivate you to learn more and give you the opportunity to let your voice be heard.