Lessons From Listening

I could never have dreamt that a simple tweet could erupt, but more than that ― I never imagined what not tweeting at all could inspire.

Over the last six weeks, I’ve been largely silent on social media. As my high school experience is drawing to a close, I decided to pause. I devoted my time to doing something that I perhaps should have done much more of much sooner ― listening.

In the last month, I’ve spent more time talking to people, reading books, and taking deep breaths. Headlines condensed into breaking news tweets are not the whole story, and often times the story isn’t even being written at all, and it takes searching ― it takes time ― to realize that (or at least did for me).

In my silence, there were moments when I was moved by a young women of color standing up to bigotry, when I was heartbroken by hateful violence, and when I was changed by art ― and I wanted to say or share something, but I didn’t. And through that ― I realized I didn’t have to.

More has happened in these last six weeks than I could possibly begin to scratch the surface of in this piece, but I’ve been riled up. Politicians voted to abuse the vulnerable through the passage of a catastrophic health-care bill, millions abroad continued to suffer while the leaders of the “free world” idled, 15-year-old Jordan Edwards was killed by police, the LGBTQ community faced yet another attack with the introduction of a “religious liberty” executive order, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim bigotry were seemingly grotesquely normalized through numerous incidents, and people all around this world continued to be unheard. And, in the same way that I’ve just listed all of that as if each is only an asterik in our broader history, acute tragedies are often afterthoughts included in the fineprint, the occasional 140 characters, and the passing segment. Injustice merits the utmost attention, but it’s become customary to synthesize to a headline, to react, and to forget about it. I reject that.

My appreciation for the whole story has been furthered by my Senior Project, through which I’ve decided to have a conversation with every single person in my school. I’ve listened to stories that we cannot afford to forget. I’ve listened to stories from survivors of sexual assault, those grappling with their mental health, and students who fundamentally look at the world so differently than I do. It’s not just through my Senior Project though that I’ve recognized the value in conversation over commentary as through my organization, Redefy, I’ve met people from all walks of life with stories of suffering that are as nuanced as they are heartbreaking. Through conversation ― I’ve come to believe that the marginalized are the experts on their own oppression, and it’s our job to hear from them ― not reduce them to sound bites, segments, and subtitles.

It’s with that in mind that I’ve come to terms with the fact that no one is depending on my commentary, and I have so much more to gain from reading the thoughts of those experiencing the realities than I have to gain from sharing my outsider perspective. In order to be an effective citizen, I need to learn more about experiences that I do not personally experience, and support movements that have existed long before me and will exist long after me. I’m inconsequential to this work, but this work is of great consequence.