Yesterday, I was on a panel at Printer's Row about sexual violence and testimony. One of the questions that came up in the conversation was speaking on behalf of survivors, those who have honored us with their stories and allowed us to use those stories in an effort to make cultural change.
This is not a responsibility to take lightly. I think whenever anyone is a witness to testimony and later uses that testimony for macro purposes, we always need to be careful. We need to honor the spirit of the testimony, not overlay our own agendas on it. Consequently, a large part of promoting cultural change is not only providing testimony, but the ability to listen.
We forget that sometimes. We say we need to listen more, but we forget because we live in a world where knee-jerk reactions and an immediate POV on something is important. But immediate reactions are often to the detriment of the work being done. And I'm quite certain I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I want to be an AUTHORITY. I want to have an OPINION. I want to take all these things that I know and put them into a place. But, sometimes it is not the right place. Sometimes they aren't our stories to tell. Sometimes we just need to listen and DO NOTHING but add it to our own foundation of empathy, our own efforts to understand something better.
Nowhere is this more obvious in my life than with regards to race. I'm a white woman married to a black man with biracial children. I spend a lot of time listening to Julio about his experience, but sometimes I forget about my kids. I want to tell them what it's like as if I'm an authority, when the reality is that I have no idea what it's like living in their skin. Which means I need to talk to them less about what I think and listen to them more.
I quite liked this reminder of listening this morning from Daniel José Older because YES. I need to do this. We ALL need to do this.
It is Pentecost today, which has always been a baffling church holiday for me. Because what does it even mean? My rational brain has never understood this event. Until today. When our pastor spent the whole sermon talking about the barriers between those living in poverty and those making laws for those living in poverty. And he spoke of these barriers as if they were a language barrier, a barrier to understanding, a barrier to compassion. And then all these things clicked with me.
The best way in to compassion is the act of listening. I believe in breaking silence, in telling truths, in bearing witness, in providing testimony, but I also think that the first step to all of that is listening.