When Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed in Birmingham, Ala. In 1963, he fell into conversation with a number of his white jailers who, while racists, shared with him the difficulty of the system for which they worked and, by extension, their own lives. After listening — remember, he was a pastor by profession — he told them, “You ought to be with us.”
We know of Dr. King as a reconciler, but he was able to do that because of his willingness to listen to those who hated him. I suspect that the root of much of the divisiveness in this country, the degree of which I can’t recall being as bad as it is now, is an unwillingness to listen to those who disagree.
Basically, it comes down to being aware of people’s “stories.” Every person has a face, a name and a history that drives him or her. As such, we don’t always appreciate what our adversaries have to face.
I admit to being more critical of President Donald Trump and his supporters and allies for being hard-hearted toward those they see as implacable opponents. Most notably, when he called protesters playing in National Football League games as [S.O.B.’]s, he was in effect saying, “I don’t give a rip about what you think.” That led directly to an escalation of protests that, in the eyes of many, got out of hand.
The bigger issue, however, is that Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who sparked the protest last year, said that he was trying to draw attention to police brutality against African-Americans (his biological father as black). But his detractors called him disruptive and unpatriotic because he did so during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Couldn’t he have found another way or time?, people asked.
No, and that was his point.
The last couple of days, in response to the Harvey Weinstein incident, we’ve experienced a “me too” campaign primarily from women who were sexually harassed or assaulted. I’ve been sensitized over the past couple of decades, remembering things I saw at my fraternity house but taking no action because I didn’t recognize what was happening.
Some of these brave women have been willing to tell those stories and I salute them because I can’t ever be in their shoes and thus feel exactly as they do.
It’s not about being eternal “victims”; it’s about acknowledging what happened. One thing about sin is that it needs to be exposed before it can be addressed and its repercussions faced.
More to the point, it’s about “[mourning] with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15), and sometimes hearing the stories of others is a part of that. I’m willing to listen — are you?