The Art of Listening

I have read and heard a lot of opinions about the students who stood up and walked out of their commencement because Mike Pence was the speaker. 

I can see lots of sides to the situation. One on hand, public displays of protest are important. On the other hand, interrupting a ceremony is rude. On yet another hand, the students did not cause a big scene; they simply walked out. Still another hand wonders exactly what idea they were protesting. I don’t actually have four hands… but if I did they would all be grasping at these questions and more as I think of them. 

When I graduated, the speaker was a man whom I don’t like. Kent Hance is not on my list of favorite people. I didn’t like the way he handled the situation with Mike Leach and the evil Craig James. I still sat through my commencement speech quietly and pretended to listen. I’m from Texas, and a Texas Tech Red Raider. We take our football very seriously and they fired our beloved pirate and brought in Tommy Tuberville. This was a tragedy. It’s still tragic. Despite my passionate ideas on the Machiavellian politics by our former chancellor, I sat there and did not cause a scene. 

I read articles and opinions written by people with whom I disagree with vehemently. I ask questions when I encounter someone with a different set of values. 

More important to me is how listening to people who have different ideologies is essential to challenging my beliefs. It also keeps life interesting. When I live everyday surrounded by people who only see the world as I see it I become complacent. I don’t have to evaluate my ideas. I don’t have to wonder if I may be completely wrong. I am sheltered from the embarrassment of being on the wrong side of history. 

When I was a kid I was taught the civil war had nothing to do with slavery. Only a few people even had slaves. The whole point of the war was state’s rights and the attempts by the federal government to control the citizens and strip them of their liberty. Besides no decent human being would ever condone slavery in this day. We were even told stories about the paternalistic nature of many slave owners. We were taught about the care they provided for their unfortunate slaves. After all, they were business men and happy workers are better workers. You see, I had a history teacher/ coach who was funny and charismatic. I liked him, and he offered an explanation that absolved me of guilt for being from the south. I went to Robert E. Lee Junior High School. We were proud confederates who donned gray and blue with pride. 

Yesterday I saw a video of a speech given by the mayor of New Orleans discussing the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee. He mentioned how growing up in the south we are taught that cheering for the confederacy was an act of local pride. Slavery wasn’t the issue. He then explained how his mind was changed after he heard another side of the story, which lead to his proposition to remove the statue.

For a while now I have heard stories about universities striping building names and statues for these war heroes and I found it mildly ridiculous. I felt like I was being attacked for being a white southerner. I became defensive as one does when their heritage is under siege. I needed justification and permission for the pride I have for my home. 

The internet is a wealth of information. When I allow myself to be introduced to new perspectives I have the opportunity to grow. I can reinforce my old ideas, conversely I also have the freedom to adjust them based on the newest data available. I am exposed to art and ideas from people with vastly different life experiences and I can incorporate into my decision making process. 

The real privilege comes from these opportunities. I get to decide what kind of life I want to lead. I was raised to never take things at face value. I continue to be introduced to new points of view. 

When I am at my best I can admit I don’t know the answers. However, if I care to listen and learn I may get closer. I have an obligation to be exposed to opposition. I should continue to look at things as if I may be called to debate either side of the argument. I should do my research and be able to defend the affirmative and the negative sides to any proposition. 

The art of listening supercedes my need to protest. While protest is imperative against social injustice, I have to know what I am protesting. I need to have the information. Ideas don’t hurt us unless we refuse to consider them. Blindly following the crowd opens us up to tyranny. I won’t be the one who refuses to listen and consider your ideas. I am free to disagree, just as you are free to disagree with me. 

Besides, I have always loved a good argument. I’ll even switch sides just so we have something interesting to discuss. I implore everyone to engage in at least considering before they dismiss the other side. After all, every one is on the wrong side of history at one point or another. 

*I feel like it is worth mentioning the three other junior high schools in my hometown are named after Lincoln, Edison, and John Glenn. 

Accidental Social Experiment 

Can I tell you a secret? 

One of the most exciting things about staying in a hotel is when housekeeping leaves me a note. I got one at Disney World, letting me know my water bottle had been put in the refrigerator. At the Fairfield in Maryland I got notes about every three days or so. 

I decided I liked it! So, to promote this practice I left a sticky note on the TV this morning when I left. 

Sometimes I am messy, sometimes I am neat. If I leave money on this dresser it’s meant for you! Thank you so much.

I had my hopes up when I walked through the door. I was excited to see what surprise (okay, prompted) message was left behind in response to my note and the dollars I had left behind. 

Nothing. The money was gone and the note remained stuck to the screen. 

I’m not gonna lie, I was a little sad. Okay maybe sad is being a little overly dramatic but it was a bit of a letdown. 

Apparently, money really can’t buy you love. 

Robots chase me

My mind is somewhere else, juggling an ever-growing to-do list, listening for my pager, and checking my phone for the latest information about the world when I hear a loud whirring and impatient beeping behind me. Turning my head slightly to evaluate the potential risk for being run over by some random vehicle in this deserted hallway, I see an unoccupied filing cabinet racing along behind me. 

Holy shit! The office furniture is alive and it seems pissed. What the hell is this? My pace quickens and I race to the nearest stairwell to escape certain death. 

I have no idea what this giant box on wheels is doing. I have no idea where it has been or where it is going. I’ve never seen anything like this before. I’m certainly not going to ask anyone, what if this is simply a figment of my overactive, stressed out imagination? These people rely on me to make important decisions. Life and death stuff. I can’t let them think I am insane. My pager goes off and I promptly forget about my near-death experience. 

A few days later I see the box again, I am less startled and decide it must be no big deal. No one else even acknowledges its presence. I am obviously insane. Later that afternoon I see the box tucked into a little alcove in the hallway. It doesn’t occur to me it is the same murderous stalker I’ve been nervous about. It’s simply part of the environment. 

Later that day I see a woman typing a code into the keypad and see her open the door and remove a large stack of papers. This must be a medical records storage device of some sort. That night when the hallway is empty I stop to examine the device. Ah-ha! It’s like a Roomba! 

Now, so many questions remain. Where does this thing go? Does it go up to the floors? Can it maneuver in the elevator? Why did they purchase this? Is it really saving that much time? Who can I ask about this without seeming ridiculous? 

Furthermore, I find it moderately disconcerting no one would warn people of the automated robots who may be chasing them. 

Am I in danger of a hit and run? Can this machine sense when someone is standing in front of it? It appears heavy. It could really hurt someone. I am now convinced this is a machine of death. Just one more reason hospitals are indeed dangerous places. 

Did someone lose their job to this aggressive box of bolts? Who performs maintenance on this contraption? What is this all about? 

So many questions. No answers. I feel the need to investigate this further. To quote most of my favorite studies: further research is indicated. 

Say Nothing

Silence is deafening. 

I would like to pretend the whole thing ended after a mature conversation between two adults who realized it was just not working out. 

Nope. That’s not what happened. Not at all. The last conversation I had with My Spy he said he couldn’t wait to hear more about Jazzfest and all the awesome bands I was now infatuated with. “Text me when you get to the airport.” 

So, I did. No answer. I wasn’t that concerned. He had been bad about texting for a while. I ignored it. Two days later, I was on my way back to Maryland. Remember this is the guy who used to call me when I was about to board a plane because he knows how much I hate flying. I texted him my flight information. No answer. 

I decided I was not texting again. I was not calling. We just talked about this a few weeks ago. I am not going to be the only who makes an effort. 

I even told him how much it hurts my feelings. That conversation was difficult for me, but it was important. I needed to make sure my expectations and needs were clear. 

I have a few theories about his sudden and total communication blackout. 

1. He’s just an asshole. 

2. He is lying in a hospital bed in a coma just waiting for his nurse practitioner girlfriend to come save him. 

3. He died and I should be making a donation to his favorite charity. 

I tend to think the first theory is the most likely. Either way, I have no intention of finding out. 

I’m not chasing someone and begging them to love me. I won’t sit around and pine for someone who isn’t totally crazy about me. I would rather be alone than lonely and “in a relationship.” 

I would like to say I am heartbroken and sad. That would be a lie. I am baffled by his behavior. I am not really surprised though. 

It turns out: you say it best when you say nothing at all. Keith Whitley may have been crooning a love song, but My Spy told me everything I need to know when he disappeared. 

*my mother gets credit for saying that line to me when I was telling her how baffling I found his behavior. 

*Is my life actually turning into a country song? 

Thanks Mom. 

Relatively Easy

Wishful thinking is dangerous. 

It is easy to make excuses and pretend selfish behavior is okay. It beats the alternative. It’s better than thinking I am just not that important. So, I pretended everything was fine, until it wasn’t. I mean, come on, of course he really wants to be with me. It’s just his crazy schedule. What kind of nutjob wouldn’t think I am absolutely amazeballs? Sigh. 

It was easy to pretend it was all real, nevermind the fact I hadn’t seen him in two months, and he couldn’t be bothered to call when he said he would. 

It’s easy to pretend someone is fantastic when you never see them. He can be the proverbial “man of my dreams” when I don’t actually see him except in my dreams. 

It’s easy to fill in the blanks when all you have is a blank canvas, even if he seems to be full of promise and potential. 

It’s easy to believe he brings out a side of me that was hidden. 

It’s all so damn dramatic. 

Until it’s not. 

It’s amazing how two months ago I was convinced my life would be painfully and irreversibly altered if he wasn’t a part of it, and now I realize it’s actually better today. 

It was easy to push aside my ideas for how I want to live my life. I was perfectly willing to ignore all my grand ideas of fun and adventure for the hope of my idea of normal. I wanted to live up to the notion of what a woman should want. 

A real good woman wants a family and a houseful of children. She cooks fantastic dinners for her adoring husband, who slaves away earning a living to support his family. She can get a stain out of anything. She juggles everyone’s schedule and makes it look effortless, all while maintaining a perfect nude lip. She doesn’t want to go on trips just to see something new. She would never wear red lipstick during the day. She scours Pinterest for DIY projects she always completes beautifully. 

There is not a single item on that list describes me. I am messy, loud, and constantly looking for my next adventure. I like to experience things with lots of different people and can’t imagine devoting my life to just one relationship, romantic or otherwise. I wear red lipstick frequently, and have no intention of toning it down to fit in. 

So, why was I so fixated on the idea of becoming some other woman? Why do I have to constantly remind myself to honor my personality? How do you forget to just be who you are? 

Maybe it was the challenge. Perhaps the fantasy of too many Hallmark greeting cards took over. It’s possible I just wanted to feel like I am good enough. 

Too bad it wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real. I was ignoring who I am. The simple desire to be more can overwhelm even the most confident girl and we all know I am frequently a giant ball of insecurities. So, it was easy to convince myself to clutch to this idea. 

Funny, it didn’t have much to do with him. Ask me what I liked about My Spy. He made me laugh. He has a nice smile. He challenged me. That’s really all I can tell you. 

Once I got into it all, I just didn’t want to be that silly girl who flits from relationship to relationship. I didn’t want to be embarrassed because maybe I read too much into it. I didn’t want to appear to lack self-awareness. My flip flops are firmly grounded in reality. I certainly don’t live in some fantasyland of “not really relationships.” 

I could make excuses and justify the ball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. “Relationships are hard.” That was my mantra. 

Maybe they shouldn’t be so hard. Perhaps forcing a square peg into a round hole isn’t a good idea. Maybe it’s not a hole after all. What if it is just room to grow and change? It’s quite possible I am not missing anything. 

It was relatively easy to ignore who I am. It’s shockingly easier to relax and be me. Let’s see how many more times I have to learn this lesson.