Losing The Ability To Listen and Discuss

This has been one of the saddest weeks, nationally, that I can remember in years. Two men executed by police and now five Dallas PD officers killed by snipers during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.

A constant in all cases: guns. When you pair rage and fear with a gun, horrible irreversible things happen. This is something we tolerate and I’m not sure why.

We are in love with guns and we are afraid. We believe that guns will save us, that guns grant us respect, that guns settle scores for us. And they certainly do scare people. I’ve seen them pointed at people and know how quickly it can shift an attitude. I know how I feel firing one.

When you don’t get the respect you think you deserve, a gun will make people fear you — which can feel like the same thing as respect, if only temporarily: If I cannot make you respect me, I will make you fear me.

I understand the impulse. I’ve watched my own fear and rage hold sway over me this week. But I know that words and actions are more powerful. They’re harder — much harder — but no one dies. No one gets paralyzed or blinded or crippled. Guns can’t kill the biggest monsters. They can’t kill fear or hate or rage or prejudice or bigotry. They can’t kill objectification and marginalization. They can’t kill blame.

People say they are “tired” of “political correctness,” which is what they consider any objection, criticism, or discussion of these issues. Yet they seem to have boundless energy for killing, for defending killers and guns. That’s because a gun is fast. A gun doesn’t think. A gun doesn’t have to be patient or tolerant or put up with your bullshit. A gun is a way of saying, “Shut your mouth. End of discussion.”

As someone with little to no patience for discussion of difficult issues, I can see the attraction of trying to solve problems with guns. I want to claw my face off when I’m forced to listen in a conversation. I want to be heard. My skin crawls when I have to understand the other person. I want them to understand me. Especially if I completely disagree with him or her.

We are not “tired” of discussing these issues — we just don’t know how. We’ve lost the ability to truly discuss. All we have are shouted talking points, pithy tweets, maudlin Facebook posts. We’ve lost the ability to sit with people, to sit with complex topics, to sit with our own complicated hearts.

Image credit: Discussion by Tim Nelson/Creative Commons CC BY 2.0


2 thoughts on “Losing The Ability To Listen and Discuss

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  1. I would love to find someone who would actually have the hard conversations and who is willing to hear beyond what they have preconceived the other to be saying. I am one of those “tired” of “political correctness” but not for the reasons you attribute to such a person. I am discouraged from even commenting on issues by those who have on their agenda the labeling and demonization of someone who has a different view than theirs. There is very little desire from those in need of a “safe place”, in order to express themselves, to actually engage in and participate in discussions with someone whose thinking is educated, thoughtful and nuanced but that is different than theirs. I would sign up all day long and twice on Sunday to have an actual debate of the issues but my guess is there are very few who really want to have that conversation because it is far easier, as you say, to shouted worn out talking points, shoot out a 141 character tweet or “share” a Facebook post that falls in line with their already entrenched views. Set up a time and the parameters of the debate and I’ll be there with ears to hear and a heart for understanding.

    1. I agree with you, Dena. Sometimes I wonder if the idea of “winning” is so entrenched in our culture that we see everything as a fight. To “win” in discussion, in my opinion, is to find common ground with others. To remember that we all want the same things, we just may disagree on how to make those things happen. Compromise is a value that we used to hold dear and one that our best leaders employed to govern and get things done. Compromise, as anyone who’s ever been in any kind of relationship will agree, is vital to keeping that relationship. Or more simply, as Mick Jagger sang: “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you get what you need.” What we need, I think, is to try to keep discussing, try to keep communication open, try to listen and understand. For the future of this country that we all love, we have to find common ground and a way forward.

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