By Alicia Crank / Herald columnist
Not long after George Floyd’s death, I saw and read several editorials and articles in local news outlets, but none was written by a person of color. I ended up reaching out to four other Black residents in Edmonds and asked if they would participate in an online discussion, so that our voices (plural) could be heard.
I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be, or if those that I asked would be willing to participate. I also made the decision to not make it a traditional Zoom meeting, but a webinar, because the goal was to have a listening session. I didn’t know who would be listening, or even how many. I just wanted to put something out there.
My mind was blown when several hundred people logged in to watch it live, with several hundred more watching it later. Of greater impact, if not unexpected, was the feedback asking if more of these could be done. This one-off webinar turned into a 10-plus-episode series called “Black In Edmonds.” Only a couple of those episodes involved an all-Black panel. It grew to become more inclusive of all voices, covering various topics that affect all of us in the community.
While I like to think I was so engaging that the success of the program was a given, I know it’s not the case. Going back and really paying attention to the online comments and feedback from that first episode, there was a theme: all five of us have differing opinions on the topics we discussed. Not only did we have differences across a topic, but we also held an actual dialogue across those differences. I chose the panelists to showcase that.
No yelling. No insulting each other’s beliefs and reasonings. No shutting the other person down. We were listening to each other, not just hearing and ignoring the parts we didn’t like.
Every Black In Edmonds listening session involved uncomfortable conversations. I was heavily criticized by some for inviting a guest or two that some considered polarizing. My argument, again, was what is the point of only having one point of view on a topic if the goal is to learn from one another? In the end, information was exchanged, respectful discourse occurred, no one felt beat up on, and the listener was able to take all that information and do with it what they wanted.
As a society, we are prone to generalize groups, communities and cultures into one box without leaving room for individuality. No one person speaks for an entire race, gender or sexual orientation. Not all Republicans are Team Trump. Not all Democrats are Team Biden. There are differences and spectrums across all of these. What tends to be missing is the dialogue across those differences.
Having a respectful dialogue across differences is the foundation for civil discourse, which involves listening. Hearing is sedentary. Listening is an exercise that requires time and attention. Differences do not mean polar opposites. Everyone comes into a situation or mindset, right or wrong, based on personal experiences. What may seem wrong to me may not be for someone else. What may be of benefit to you may have unintended consequences for your neighbor. The fear of participating in uncomfortable discussions across differences tends to do more harm than good.
Maybe that’s why I like to dive into these conversations, promote them. I choose to believe, in most cases, even the loudest of people pushing a certain way of thinking can be reached if they feel listened to without argument. It’s easy to say “we” or “they” just want to be heard, but the reality is that we all want to be listened to. There is a distinction between the two.
Opportunities to exercise civil discourse are an everyday occurrence. From the workplace to your local community group, differences in points of view exist, some may be more subtle than others.
Many of us have local elections happening in our towns this year, and the rumblings of discourse now will only grow louder in the coming months. A few weeks ago, I got to witness civil discourse at a state legislative preview event where Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate spoke about their goals and objectives for the year. In the coming days, I’ll moderate a discussion with two Black legislators in Snohomish County on the same thing.
Admit it: Some of you just read that last sentence and thought: “There are no differences between two Black legislators who are Democrats.”
What’s your view on this? I’d be interested in learning who you listen to in your respective communities. Who or what organizations model civil discourse for you? Who is it that you listen to? Drop me a line and let me know.
Alicia Crank lives in Edmonds. Email her at email@example.com.
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