The Muted Cacophony, America’s Empathy Problem

LISTEN.

I am supposed to be writing something else right now. I drove the hour and a half to my family’s little get away cabin to spend a couple days in seclusion for the purpose of writing a few more chapters for the sequel to my book. On the drive down from Indianapolis, traversing the back roads of beautiful southeastern Indiana, I was listening to the NPR radio coverage of the opening day of the Republican National Convention. There was the prerequisite coverage of who was going to be speaking, what the theme would be, and so on. They were also covering some of the tension and discord surrounding the event. There was the expected demonstration from Black Lives Matter. There was also coverage of the protests from within the Republican ranks from those members of the party who are against Trump being the nominee. As one reporter was speaking, it became difficult to hear what she was saying because of the loud, organized chants from the Black Lives Matter demonstrators. The reporter finally just stopped and, for a few seconds, the broadcast was dominated by the protestors peacefully, but forcefully, chanting their message…”Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter…”

Then something happened that caught me completely off guard. There, driving my truck down a beautiful country road, my throat began to tighten, my lip started to quiver, and my eyes welled up with tears. I can’t really explain exactly why I became so emotional other than to tell you this; I suddenly understood that what I was listening to was the very best and the very worst of America condensed in one moment that I could not see, but only hear. There, outside the arena, where one of the two mega-monster political machines was about to convene, was America, the darkness and despair juxtaposed with the light and the hope. We live in a country that has been dealing with the same issue since its inception. That same elephant that has been in our room from the beginning is still there right now, stinking as bad as ever. The Black Lives Matter folks have been shouting about that elephant pretty loudly lately. 

The race problem has never gone away in our country. It is one of our darkest legacies as a nation. The despair I heard in the chants coming through my radio speakers this afternoon hit me deeply. Yet, a portion of my emotions at that moment were of a lighter kind. I also was struck, just then, by the greatness of our nation. The very fact that the Black Lives Matter demonstrators were given a place to set up outside the arena, and were free to shout their message, is what has made America the envy of millions of people around the world for nearly two and a half centuries. Indeed, even the Republican, anti-Trump, protestors inside the convention were taking advantage of the same right. We all have the right to have a voice. We have a right to be heard. Despair and hope collided in my brain and caused me, for a moment, to fill with emotion. Then I began to think some more.

We have the right to a voice, but what if no one listens? Last week I wrote a blog article that touched on this topic and it came flooding back to me there in my truck today. We need to understand that, when people are chanting, they are doing so for a reason. They desperately want to be heard. They NEED to be heard. A great many people in our nation today have fixed themselves in a defensive posture out of a deep seated fear of losing something. They have built a rampart around their hearts and minds. They fight hard to tune out, or discredit, any message that doesn’t support what they are desperately trying to hold onto. In a rapidly changing world, that becomes difficult to do and they become ever more frustrated, bitter, and defensive. They become unwilling to hear the message of those beyond their rampart walls. 

Yet, consider those who are doing the chanting…have they, perhaps, built ramparts around their hearts and minds as well? Could it be that they have become so callused from a lifetime of trying to be heard that they have also not been listening? 

How much would change if we would all raise a white flag of truce above our ramparts and just listen? We might find out that, instead of a race problem, what we really have is an empathy problem. 

LISTEN.

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