We all want to be heard.
This past weekend, Tanner and I took the girls to Ohio to visit family. We left in the early hours on Friday, and as we drove through Nashville, I noticed a car speed up and start following me quite closely. Eventually, a break came in the lane next to us, and as he sped around us, he gave me the middle finger. Immediately, I felt ashamed and like I needed to explain myself; “I have children in the car,” “I wasn’t even traveling that slowly,” “It’s dark outside so I was driving with caution.” My husband and kiddos were still sleeping, and as I drove in the dark and quiet for the next hour or two, I kept ruminating on what I would say if I was to cross paths with that driver.
I wanted to be heard. Something had been communicated to me, but forcefully so. My side of the story didn’t matter . . . my voice in the conversation was forgotten.
In the first hours of life, little ones use their voice to communicate their needs to caregivers as they declare their entrance into the world with a loud cry. Innate within us is a desire for dialogue, for relational dynamism – it is a lived expression of the image Dei – image of God – that each of our souls bear. Made in the image of God, who has eternally existed in relationship within himself – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – human beings are created for the interplay of relationship. And so, feeling forgotten cuts at the very core of how we are created to be.
I listened to a fascinating interview on NPR the other day regarding the feeling among voters this election cycle. One comment struck me: “There is this overwhelming notion among the electorate of feeling forgotten.”
Conservative, liberal, moderate, indifferent . . . I think we can all agree that the United States of America is better than allowing people to feel forgotten.
I remember learning the preamble to the constitution in 8th grade - who else remembers the Schoolhouse Rock jingle? “We the People of The United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for The United States of America.” Feeling unheard by the powers that be, our forefathers left life on the other side of the Atlantic with a vision to establish a new country that would endeavor to protect the voice of the people. They sought to establish a country that, as famously described by Abraham Lincoln in The Gettysburg Address, would be “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
This is the first election cycle I have navigated as the parent of a child old enough to be interested in and comprehend what is happening. Eager to take advantage of this learning opportunity, Tanner and I made it a point to include our five-year-old daughter, Eiley, with us as we began watching the GOP and DNC primary debates when they began nearly a year ago. Our daughter has remained interested and is asking great questions as she begins to learn about government and the political systems at play in our country. And, while I am hopeful that she is learning and truly believes that she can use her voice to speak into the systems that be, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this election cycle has left me wondering if that really is true. As the debates progressed over the past year and the rhetoric became noticeably more demeaning, we could no longer have Eiley watch alongside us. By removing her from the dialogue, a barrier to empowerment surfaced. Albeit our choice, the reality is that by distancing Eiley from the conversation, by limiting her ability to listen, her understanding of this situation has inevitably been compromised.
Empowerment - giving voice - begins with understanding, and understanding flourishes when we listen. As a Christian, I believe that I learn more about my “true self,” to use the words of Thomas Merton, when I listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit within. Furthermore, I learn by listening to others through humility. What do I have to learn from someone else’s human experience, and how does it impact and influence my own human story?
A couple weeks ago, Eiley proudly announced over breakfast; “I know who I am going to vote for!” “Oh really, who?” I asked. She continued, “I don’t prefer either of the choices we have been given, so I am going to write in Rainbow Dash.” It made perfect sense to her – why wouldn’t the colorful and friendly My Little Pony make a great leader? Her world is vibrant and playful, and obviously would make life quite the adventure if elected the leader of this great country.
My hope is that in the days following, we will have a greater margin for listening to one another instead of speaking at each other. Some of the population of our country will be excited about the newly elected leader, and others will be frustrated. Fear may try and creep into the hearts and minds of those that feel unheard: “What is to become of this country for our children and grandchildren?” But a fearful rhetoric is never life giving. In fact, I learned at a parenting conference that fear often masks itself in anger . . . so when we feel afraid, when our children feel afraid, we often express that fear through anger. We can not afford to become easily angered with one another at this time in our nation’s history. Unity has never been easy. Unity demands listening. Unity calls us to participate collectively in the hard work of creating the space within ourselves to change. But what I know will continue, even after Election Day, is the beautiful dialogue we know as The United States of America. May we pray for the grace we need to listen to one another, to be heard by one another, and to achieve unity in the days and months ahead.
**For those of you who may be curious, I voted early in this election. And, I let my daughter’s voice be heard. Maybe I threw my vote away, but I think I did something greater by fostering in my daughter a belief that she has a voice and can use it to make a difference. She accompanied me to the voter’s booth, and proudly pushed that blinking “VOTE” button.**