I’ve shared this quote many times over the years, but it warrants sharing again, this time in a new light:
“The world changes in direct proportion to the number of people willing to be honest about their lives.” – Armistead Maupin
Maupin had it half right. Telling the truth takes bravery and courage. But the world actually only changes when people CAN TELL the truth about their lives – and when other people WILL HEAR that truth-telling. And perhaps most importantly, when those listening WILL ACT on the truth they’ve been told.
The reality is that Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour have been telling the truth about their lives for generations and generations. But finally, more white people are actually listening.
Listening is never something most of us have excelled at. Instead of actually listening, we tend to interpret, to defend, to rebut, to rehearse our response. To recenter the focus on ourselves. I’ve noticed that this is especially true of white people when in conversation about racism and white supremacy.
Challenging ourselves to be present and undefended in our listening is the only way we can actually hear what is being said. And truly hearing what is being said is the way we can begin to understand the truth of others’ experiences.
The origin of the word understanding is to “step under, to see under.” This offers excellent instruction on how to listen more deeply. It signals reverence and respect. If we truly want to understand something, we need to get beneath it, to acknowledge our ignorance, to surrender to studentship, to listen and learn.
We need to stop talking over the truth of Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour. We need to actively listen. We need to listen to the truth of their lives with respect and reverence
When we have listened deeply, when we have begun to understand, our role is not to rebut, defend, take personally, object, debate, or gaslight. Our role is to take action with our lives.
To continue to learn. To notice the ugliness of the (often subconscious) inherited beliefs we carry in our cells. To notice the canons and customs of prejudice we subscribe to and benefit from by default. To bring that shit to light. To name it in each other. To change the way we do business. The books we read. To change the way we educate ourselves and our children. To change the way we shop. The way we talk. The words we choose. To not merely signal virtue, but to embody it.
This is how the world changes. Truth-telling. Deep listening. Embodied action.
Let’s make every space a safe space for truth-telling. Let’s listen with respect and reverence. Let’s make our choices – both private and public – be evidence of the change we seek to create in ourselves and in the world we live in.