5 min read

When it’s Not Enough to Observe, Listen, and Learn

Putting thoughts into action
When it’s Not Enough to Observe, Listen, and Learn

Putting thoughts into action

Image from sacredheartcanton.org

By nature I learn by observation, listening, reading, and trying to look at all sides of an issue. I don’t always engage or publicize my thoughts. I’ve posted things in the past that others have found inflammatory or flat out wrong. But when I moved out of my comfort zone and have shared my thoughts rich discussion has come from it. It doesn’t mean that my mind has changed on an issue, or that I have changed someone else’s, but what does come from the discussion is more information and it humanizes a topic. There are times I start to engage, but the when the ensuing conversation isn’t a discussion but more of an attack, I bow out. I don’t say any more, and I move on. Right or wrong, I’m not up for a fight, but I am up for learning. And after learning comes change.

But what does change look like? In recent months, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Elijah McClain have gained notice. There has been a lot of talk of “silence is complicity” but also of staying in your own lane and not overstepping boundaries. I have spent the last few weeks reading articles, looking for answers, joining groups, and listening. I have been trying to find my lane and live it transparently. I usually don’t speak up publicly, but I listen and I learn. That sounds like a cop out, doesn’t it?

What does listen and learn actually mean? It means take in the information, ruminate on it, listen to the voices of the hurt and the marginalized and get out of your comfort zone to say something.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a racist, but I don’t know if until recently if I could have called myself anti-racist. I didn’t realize that they were separate. If I wasn’t a racist then of course I would be anti-racist? Right? Not necessarily. It is no longer enough not to be racist, now is the time to speak up. Find your voice and use it.

And I get it. There is a lot of information. There are books to read, podcasts to listen to, voices to be heard and amplified. Where do you begin? Find the one thing that speaks to you. What do you hear?

I am trying to find my voice. I am trying to find where I belong and how I can do the most good right now. And I think that can be said for any situation where you feel a call to action.

In Jen Hatmaker’s book, Fierce Free and Full of Fire she touches on the idea of the Mega, Mezzo, and Modest Woman. In a previous life I thought that I had to be a Mega Woman to get my point across. I thought I had to be in the forefront and be loud and passionate to bring notice to an issue and I found that incredibly uncomfortable because I don’t like confrontations. I get tongue tied and turned around. I’m not as articulate as I want to be. I have found over the years that shouting down an opposing argument does not beget change. If anything, it closes minds; yours, mine, everyone’s.

I have found that I prefer to be a Modest Woman with a little Mezzo thrown in. I prefer to be behind the scenes supporting a cause. I work internally first and learn about a topic and how I really feel about it. It doesn’t mean I’m any less passionate, it just means that I’m willing to do the behind the scenes work without anyone looking. The Mezzo woman is a bridge builder and while I’m content to work behind the scenes I am also happy to be that bridge builder and humanize a story. I am willing to make myself vulnerable to help other people see the other side of an issue. I find common ground and try to work from there to share differences and to find a way to bring ideas together. I work best one on one when I can really hear a person and understand their point of view. It’s about listening.

There are times when I feel a call and I didn’t know where to begin. Right now, I feel called to listen, learn, and observe. I’m trying to follow the lead on those who know more and have been doing activism for a while. I’m also learning that there is a lot to unpack.

In this moment in time, I am finding my voice in the case of Elijah McClain. As a mother of a boy who is also “different” I am heartbroken to hear Elijah’s story. Not because he was one of the “good guys” who didn’t deserve what happened to him, but because Elijah McClain was the most vulnerable. Have you heard his story? His last words? Did you hear his voice when he told the officers, “I am just different” or when he said, “Please respect my boundaries.” Even though he was in his early twenties, a young adult, he had the voice of a little boy trying to figure what was happening and why. You hear the terror through his tears. He pleads with the officers and apologizes over, and over, and over again for nothing he did wrong. He did nothing wrong and his voice is gut wrenching and heartbreaking. I share some of his story here and why it affects me.

I still feel like a neophyte as I share my views. I feel unprepared to share my voice. I feel like I am messing up every single time I share something. I listen intently and read people’s views over and over again to make sure that I have heard the tone correctly. Sometimes it is very easy and other times it is very nuanced.

Sister Thea Bowman says, “I think the difference between me and some people is that I’m content to do my little bit. Sometimes people think they have to do big things in order to make change. But if each one would light a candle we’d have a tremendous light.

Sister Thea’s words resonate with me as a Modest Woman with a little Mezzo thrown in. But don’t mistake my vulnerability for weakness. I share my vulnerability to show that I am learning, I make my mistakes, but in my mistakes, I continue to grow.

Find your voice. Find what you believe and put your thoughts and words into actions. Together we can make a tremendous light.