I’m walking through the aisles of my local grocery store and I start to hear a disgruntled child argue his case for a treat of some kind. “[Some other kid] gets one all the time,” he says. “But, I really want one,” he pleads. Mom’s not buying his logic and the situation turns critical. It’s the beginning of a tantrum. Curiosity gets me a little and as I casually walk past their aisle, I’m just in time to see him give her a little swat on the arm. Now Mom’s reached her limit. She turns to him and with a stern look says something like, “I’ve about had it with you.” I continue walking because it’s just weird to eavesdrop on those conversations, but as I do, I can’t help feeling grateful that it’s not me and my child having a public confrontation.
Before I became a mom I was the constant critic and expert on child psychology and human behavior. Once I became a mom, with the ice-cold plunge of reality, I softened but I still sometimes find myself critiquing and judging the way other people parent. I can handle my emotions better. My child would never act that way. Oh, please. I feel embarrassed just writing that.
But that’s not all. Now that I’m constantly thinking about politics, I can see that I’m guilty of something else. When issues arise that don’t really affect me, I have a hard time understanding and relating to others. Suddenly I’m an expert on racial problems, socio-economic inequality, health care laws, and so on. I’m too busy keeping track of my own opinions to really listen to anyone else’s. But am I really such an expert? Can I really know someone else’s perspective, limits, frustrations, barriers and struggles? I know there is something I can learn from the perspective of others.
I’d like to apologize. I’m sorry for thinking I know everything. I’m sorry for not always being a good listener. Forgive me for not caring enough about YOUR problems and YOUR issues. And I mean that sincerely.
I’m not apologizing because I’m feeling sorry for myself or to point out that I’m a bad person. It’s part of a new beginning. I’m taking on this challenge of getting more involved in politics, and that’s a good thing. I’ve already recognized that I’m generally ignorant, but I want to make sure I recognize ALL of the areas of my ignorance. I need to listen more. I need to care more.
That mother at the store is just like me. She has her good days, her bad days, and her challenges. Her child is just like mine. He’s a good kid. He can’t always have his way, but that doesn’t keep him from trying. But there’s a critical next step. I can’t just see her like me – exactly like me – because she’s going to make different choices, do things differently. What I need to do is VALUE her as I value myself. I need to allow her the same freedoms and flexibility I wish other people would give me, especially when I make mistakes. I need to listen to her and take in what she’s saying, how she’s feeling, even if only to validate and understand.
Political conversations too often turn ugly. It’s probably because we don’t value the fact that we’re all different. And I’m guilty too. When something is going on in politics that doesn’t directly affect me, I often close off, turn off, and walk away. But I should care. I should recognize the fact that the issue is affecting someone, somewhere. I should stick around and listen to what’s going on and why. That involves a conversation. Maybe it starts with an apology. Maybe it starts with just listening.
I’m hoping that if I can do that for you, maybe you’ll do that for me, and together we can finally get somewhere.