Are You Listening to Me?
December 3, 2020
Kristina Grace is a student-athlete at Spring Arbor University and is also a partnerships coordinator at Bridging the Gap.
In the current climate of America, it is far too easy to go into a store and assume one’s political party based on a mask. Or, drive down a street and assume the driver ahead of you is anti-Black Lives Matter based upon their MAGA sticker. Americans have become comfortable living within a frame informed entirely by assumptions instead of challenging themselves to look beneath the headlines and engage with others through conversations.
I can recall challenging myself recently to have a difficult conversation as a college student. While attending Spring Arbor University, a classmate made a comment that caused the rest of our class to fall into complete silence. He said something along the lines of black people are focused on police killing them when they should stop killing each other. He was referring to police brutality in America and comparing it to black on black crime. The comment was hurtful, and my classmates and I struggled to find the right words to say in the moment. I was shocked that someone that I saw every day on campus, could make such a hurtful and impactful statement. But rather than remaining shocked and angry, I challenged myself to sit down with the student and have a conversation. It wasn’t easy and it did not end in the two of us seeing eye to eye and living in perfect harmony, but, it was a start. Through this conversation, I had the opportunity to learn more about his life and experiences, and while his story did not excuse his comment, listening to him was a tool by which I was able to gain more insight. It also allowed me to see him in a more humanistic way. While the conversation was difficult and imperfect, it was a step in the right direction.
What does it look like to move forward? How do we have more of these tough conversations? It starts with willingness. You must first have the will to want to have these conversations. To see that the state of our nation is desperately in need of something new – a new way of engaging with one another. Once we have a shared understanding of the need for deeper engagement, we must be willing to listen to the “other” whomever that “other” is. We must have listening ears and fight the urge to attack with rebuttals and quick comebacks. This is the core of the Bridging the Gap model. Bridging the Gap (BTG) is a program, founded by Simon Greer, that focuses on bridging divides through learning the art of listening and putting that learning into practice. My recent participation in the BTG program is what changed my mindset and pushed me to have a challenging conversation with the student I previously mentioned. Although listening may seem like a skill we should all be able to do flawlessly, many of us forget to use it. Especially in times of such polarizing political contexts as we are currently in.
I think it is safe to assume that many of us have not used our listening skills during this highly emotional election season. We have all likely sat down to watch the recent debates and only listened to the side that we identify with and dismissed the other. But we mustn’t forget that the candidates on both sides, along with their supporters, have values that they hold dear to their hearts. Once we can recognize this truth, we can start to have courageous conversations with those who differ from us and seek to learn more about what values they hold and why they feel stronger or differently about certain issues. Then we can start to bridge the gap between us. Envision a world that’s currently polluted with dividers and walls, to be broken down to conversations had with understanding and empathy for one another. Doesn’t that sound amazing?
Now we all know the experience of scrolling through Facebook and suddenly becoming red in the face while coming across a family member who has posted something that you strongly disagree with. In moments like this, gap bridging surely seems impossible. The first instinct is probably to message them and tell them why they are wrong. In the heat of the moment, it would understandably be hard to want to dive into a conversation with them. It’s okay not to have that conversation right at that moment, in fact, it’s better not to attempt a difficult conversation when your emotions are running high. But maybe at a later date, after you have cooled down and are ready for a productive conversation, you might want to consider following up and ask them, with genuine curiosity, why they posted that specific post. But make sure to approach the conversation with true curiosity and open-mindedness, and if you are not able to commit to coming from a place of curiosity then you are likely not yet ready to engage in a courageous conversation.
If I were to offer one suggestion for what you should do as soon as you are done reading this article, I would recommend that you go have a conversation with someone with who you may have a difference and approach it with a listening ear and an open mind. Wake up tomorrow and be curious about why those around you think the way they think. Choose to have a courageous conversation. Over the next months, the world will undoubtedly continue to divide itself but I challenge you to go out and engage with others through meaningful conversations and help close the gaps between us. Remember the gap bridges are the heroes of this world.
American Civic Life