Do not mistake my optimism and positive approach as a dismissal of the gravity of what we are experiencing as a nation. Rather, it is currently the place I am on my path through grief. We all will have different paths in that process. As a clinician, I have seen that when we process grief and trauma, we cannot skip the stages that entails. We can trick ourselves into dancing around anger and sadness for a while and try to hurry toward acceptance, but ultimately if we try to surpass those emotions, we will fail and they will come back around when we least expect them. For now, I will spend time supporting issues that I am passionate about, seeking opportunities for constructive dialogue and doing my best to model for my children that we can work through conflict peacefully. That may not be your path and I assure you that I will have days of frustration and fear, but I do believe we can all gift each other with the grace and respect to know that we are in different places on this journey.
In order to do that we must listen deeply and not be afraid to hear another person’s truth. As a white privileged woman I cannot begin to understand the pain and disenfranchisement of many populations, but I can listen. I can listen with different ears than I have before. We have not listened well on either side of the political table. And I imagine the truth to be that most people do not fully subscribe to one side or the other. I do not choose to believe that half of our country is made up of sexist, misogynist, and racist individuals. I do believe that 50% of our country does not feel heard and represented. This is not a justification, it is simply a recognition that we have work to do. Had the outcome on Tuesday been different, we would still stand as a country deeply divided. To understand this divide we have to listen differently and in ways that may make us uncomfortable. It is in those difficult conversations that I see opportunities for us to heal.
When we fail to truly listen to one another we conjure up stories. If I give you a few things that describe me: mom, wife, Christian, social worker, college-educated, you can quickly come up with a variety of stories based on assumptions. You do not know me. You do not know my story. It is only when we enter into an authentic dialogue, with the intent of actively listening to one another that we can begin to know one another. In this space we do not have to agree but we can listen with empathy and compassion.
Stories are powerful tools for connection, but we have to be open to hearing stories that are painful, heartbreaking, challenging and not our own. Stories are also hopeful, inspiring and can demonstrate people’s resilience. We all have stories and they all matter. When we fail to value others’ perspectives, we are fail to acknolwledge their humanity.
It is not just enough to hear the stories; what will we do with what we learn? When we listen deeply to another person’s story, when someone has been vulnerable enough to share a piece of themselves and when we have been vulnerable in how we take in that information, we cannot help but be changed.
Sometimes it is simply in sharing the stories we hear from others that we can contribute to those around us, sometimes it means taking action and sometimes it means giving voice to a story that no-one else will hear if we don’t bring it to light.
I have so appreciated the hard conversations I have had with friends and family over the past few days and am grateful for those that are close to me for continuing to challenge my thinking and for listening generously. I welcome the opportunity to hear your story and am grateful to those of you reading this for letting me share a little bit of mine.
In peace and hope for what is possible,
Kara Schmitt, LCSW