The last couple of years has been a whirlwind. Living 2020 in quarantine helped a lot of us slow down a little and take a heavy collective breath. But while adjusting to our new reality, we started seeing the existence of everything we were too distracted to notice, or do anything about, before.
It seems as though one massive event after another has taken place. Right about the time things begin to settle down, we have a new disaster or social awareness to be concerned about. Politics, climate change, and cultural movements continue to grab our attention which is a great thing because it means people are talking again — or at least trying to.
Most of the conversation subjects at hand are intense, emotional, and triggering for many. As a result, there’s a lot of raised voices all trying to be heard.
The murder of George Flloyd, Daunte Wright, Breonna Taylor, and too many other black individuals lead to one of the largest civil rights movements in history with at least 15 million Americans walking in protest. Including 100 straight days of protests in my hometown of Portland, Oregon.
We lived through the utter shit storm of an election which resulted in fanatics attacking the US Capitol Building with the aim of stopping the electoral count. Democracy itself was at stake while rioters stormed the building with the hopes of violently attacking America’s congress and going so far as wanting to hang the Vice President, Mike Pence.
We’re learning more about people based on the way they respond. Some vitally interested in the outcome of specific debates, others don’t want anything to do with social change, and others still can’t keep up or keep track of everything that’s happening.
Being Open to Learning
Personally, I’ve learned a lot in the last couple of years. Before the pandemic, I never really had an interest in politics or social reform. Not because I didn’t care, but because I didn’t know enough about it. I was too busy consumed with my personal problems and trying to stay afloat within society’s expectations. I never looked up to see the bigger picture and how everything’s connected.
Then, for a couple of years before the pandemic hit, I was fortunate enough to travel to several countries and learn about new cultures thanks to my job as a travel consultant. Traveling began the process of opening my eyes as I started experiencing the contrast between America and other countries. A contrast I didn’t always like as my good impressions of America lessened with each international trip I went on.
By the time pandemic hit, I wasn’t traveling anymore after leaving my travel job to freelance as a web designer. Then I lost all my prospects as businesses cut back. Though, it led me to discover writing which opened a whole new world of knowledge through reading more.
As I educated myself, my conversations changed. I started asking questions I was too scared to ask before out of fear of looking uneducated. In the process, I couldn’t help but notice a change in communication with some of my friends. Two friends in particular.
We’ll call them Ava and Rachel. Both are remarkable people in their own rights but the way they communicate when it comes to disagreements, or learning new things, is vastly different.
Rachel is a lot like I am now. She’s curious about how other cultures live and how different governments compare to each other. She’s interested in the world and how it works and seeks to understand. She has a lot of opinions from her perspective but believes kindness is the missing key ingredient in society.
When Rachel and I disagree about something, we hear each other out. We ask questions to make sure we understand what the other is saying, then we speak our own opinion. Sometimes one of us changes our mind, other times neither budge from our positions — which is okay. We’re different people with different perspectives, upbringings, and experiences. We don’t always have to agree, and when we don’t, we can move on without erupting into an argument.
Whereas Ava is how I used to be before I started traveling. She doesn’t like talking or reading about politics or social change. Like me, it’s not because she doesn’t care, she just doesn’t understand enough to know what she thinks. The difference is, she has no interest in learning. Her opinion is that everyone suffers and people should just be kind. She figures she has her own problems and doesn’t want to deal with society’s tension right now so she’d rather stay out of the conversation completely.
When I ask a question to understand her perspective, she interprets it as an attack. Sometimes she’ll disappear and I’ll go days without hearing from her. She’s personally noticed the effects of some of society's issues and justifiably complains about them, but if you try to point the connection between her experiences and the larger social problems, she gets defensive or simply stops responding.
Questions Need to Be Asked
Their two communication styles when it comes to social topics or disagreements aren’t unique. It seems as though the country is split between those who are curious, and open to learning — and those who don’t want any part of it.
In America, asking a question is often interpreted as an insult instead of as a genuine tool to understand something. But as we continue our national and global conversations, questions are to be expected.
We have to get beyond jumping to the defense anytime someone points out a truth we don’t want to know. We can’t close ourselves off from differing realities and call them less important just because we don’t see how we’re personally affected. Especially since if we were to listen to the other person with an open mind and curiosity, then we could see how it’s all connected.
We’ve spent the last several decades living a fast-paced life with little time or energy to slow down and see the type of world we’re building. The pandemic forced some of us though, and despite the horror and trauma that came with it, we’ve seen an increase in social awareness.
Though before any real change can happen, we can’t lose sight of the progress we’ve started. As people get vaccinated, and we figure out what our new-new normal is, we have an opportunity to rebuild society the way it should have been all along. It won’t happen immediately, it takes consistent conversations which hinge on the ability to listen without getting defensive.
Nothing can be fixed overnight, we all know this. The only way to get things to change is to start talking. The process is slow, and it takes a lot of effort and people, but we can do it.