The art of listening

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

To the editor,

Two weeks ago, a letter to the editor that I wrote was printed in the Dillon Tribune. In that missive, I stated that the recent death of George Floyd, in combination with other wrongful deaths of black men in America at the hands of police officers, should be a tipping point for all of us. I believe that conversations among citizens, in predominantly white towns like Dillon, are one crucial component to the goal of preventing such injustices from occurring again. I encouraged others to write to the Tribune and join in this conversation, and I called out for empathy and honesty.

I was happy to see that several letters appeared in the Tribune last week on this—and related— topics. I don’t claim to have prompted those individuals to express their views; I’m just glad to know that people are engaging in a dialogue. It is vital that we pose well-reasoned arguments, share our experiences, and express our views. Yet here is a key question: Are we really listening to one another?

Listening with patience and respect is not easy.

Last week, I was fortunate to experience someone who listened. I hope this person would also say that I listened carefully to him. In response to my letter printed on June 10th in the Tribune, I was contacted by a man who now lives in Dillon, and is a retired officer of a sheriff’s department located in a major metropolitan county in another state. We met for a conversation, and that is where the listening occurred.

I think it’s safe to say that he and I hold very different views on a number of issues. But I expressed to him that I recognize I do not know nearly enough about what it means to be a police officer, a public service role for which I have great respect. He expressed to me that he was interested in hearing what my views are, and what sort of change I want to see happening in our country. Our conversation was wide-ranging, considerate, and kind.

What did it accomplish?

Time will tell. Obviously, this was just one conversation between two people. It would be easy to dismiss this moment as meaningless. Yet I have been thinking about a number of the points made by my fellow discussant, and I continue to read resources which are fact-based, informative, and insightful. I adhere to my belief that we all need to step out of the silos we so habitually occupy, and do something powerful. We need to listen.

Laura P. Straus