When I was in college one of my pre-law professors did an experiment, which we the students did not know was an experiment at the time…in which a student came into the class during a lecture and was rude, loud, and verbally abusive to another student and threw a pencil at the professor when she demanded he leave her classroom at once. When she gathered her thoughts, and our heart rates seemed to fall back to normal, she asked us to write down what we saw and what we heard…I assume you know where I am going with this? Nearly every single one of us wrote down some details that were different. Some completely different than the person sitting directly beside us! Sure, we all noted the color of his hoodie and the color of his skin, but the words he said, the tone in which he said them, his manner, the incident itself was different for almost all of us in the room. HOW is it that a group of twenty young adults could be in the same place at the same time during the same event, and all see, hear, and experience something different? To say that, decades later, we as a nation are in a version of that classroom experiment right now, is perhaps not stretching the truth too far. I am baffled and confused, almost daily, indeed weekly, as to how it is that I can watch a speech, hear an interview, read an excerpt or a transcript, and come away with a COMPLETELY different assessment of the person speaking and the subject matter and the content synopsis, and come to a conclusion that is the opposite of yours.
The English language is filled with words that have multiple meanings and subtle uses that certainly can make some of use one adjective or another to describe a person, place, or thing, but to hear a person speak in real time, and to then read the speech, and come away with a totally different conclusion about both the speaker and the subject, than the person sitting next to me, is causing me great unease. Am I not understanding the words coming from the speaker’s mouth? Am I not comprehending the sentences? Am I not well read, or educated or erudite enough to find a person to be a vulgar buffoon, with little mastery of language, and indeed an inelegance for public speaking that I find to be horrendously unpleasant to my ears, but yet you think this speaker and the speech is terrific? HOW can that be? It seems that this college experiment I was part of in my twenties is a real-world-scenario in the year I’m turning 50!!! Every day I watch some news on television, every day I read some of the newspapers on the internet, every day I listen to NPR, and yet every night I go to bed with different thoughts than most of the people to whom I am related and many of the people who I care about. The same hours in the day, the same things happening in those hours of the day, and not one common thought about what transpired. Totally different conclusions about the exact same things.
I understand that we all color our world with the thoughts we already have. We might never agree on anything in my own family, my town, and this country. We might always be divided, nearly down the middle, about everything. There are many men and women far more brave than I, who are voicing their opinions, loudly these last months, about the climate and the country, about insurance and injustice, about civil rights and Russian wrongs, and are writing and saying words that I often think but do not express. I have many loved ones and many friends who think nothing like I do about these subjects. I have many loved ones and many friends who have totally different views, opinions, beliefs, and visions of a future than I do. So I have had much on my mind these last many months, really the last year, and I have just tried to let things play out, let things unfold, and see where it goes. I have heard smart loving people say to me, “people are not giving him a chance” and I have had to simply agree to disagree. I choose to not add to the divisiveness in my family and my community and so I remain quiet most of the time about most things. But, I see what I see, and I hear what I hear, and I read what I read, and I am horrified most days that anyone can think anything but what I do, but they do. I may not be brave enough to speak out against the madness, and I may not be brave enough to take action, but I have come to the conclusion that when I hear words that cut through to the very core of what I think is right, decent, and just, it’s okay to loathe those words and the mouth from which they came, even if everyone around me thinks I am wrong.