Forum: Sarcastic anonymous call about column makes my point

What I heard in a voicemail after asking people to listen to each other and not respond with vitriol.

By Dan Hazen / Herald Forum

Since first contributing to the Herald Forum a year and half ago, I have had the strange experience of receiving feedback from people I have never met; a few encouraging notes and emails as well as a couple of anonymous nastygrams.

It’s really a bizarre experience, by the way. But last week I received my first angry voicemail. Well, I shouldn’t say “angry” because it was couched in skilled and very thick sarcasm. Not just your middle-school-kid sarcasm, but honest, consistent and clever. The caller’s criticism only brushed-up against ad hominem attacks when he applied his sharpest sarcasm to my job title: “PAAAAstor.” Otherwise, I don’t recall a single profanity or unhinged rant. On the other hand, it was anonymous. More on that shortly.

The caller’s issue was with a piece published last Saturday, sharing my view that the current spate of extremisms we’re enduring have their origins in our unwillingness to listen (“Trying to suppress others’ speech can backfire on us,” The Herald, Sept. 17).

His voice mail produced a double irony. First, I was confronted with my own knee-jerk resistance to listen! It’s hard to hear someone who doesn’t know me express disapproval and anger. I found myself defensive and even hurt at first. But a moment of prayerful pause caused me to step back from my feelings and carefully consider what he was saying. So, if you’re reading this, caller, let me say, I’m sorry that my piece was not more precise. I would be angry too if I thought my values and behaviors were being placed on par with Nazis. I apologize for giving you that impression. To clarify, I do not equate the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Va., with sign waving at a gay-pride event.

The second level of irony is revealed in two parts: 1. The caller chose anonymity. He cut-off any possibility of dialogue, no opportunity for change or growth for either of us. No listening. No dialogue. That’s exactly the problem I was writing about; 2. I suspect the caller was not actually listening to me (in part) because I received feedback from other readers who clearly got the point. But also, because the caller based his case on things I did not say; an indication that he was actually listening to other voices in an echo chamber.

Based on the caller’s apparent anger, his willingness to expend energy to find my phone number, formulate his comments with such skill and actually make the call, I assume he felt a deep need to be heard. This was underscored by the most poignant part of his voicemail. The last sound. It wasn’t a curse, or a shout. It was a deep sigh. An audible, expression of grief, frustration and maybe even despair. I felt that sigh.

So, before I fold up my card table and hand-lettered sign reading, “Listen!” and give up hope that we can disagree yet still have meaningful dialogue and gain mutual understanding, let me say: Caller, I heard you. I’m angry too about the violence and hate being spewed by right-wing extremists of all kinds. And no, it’s not the same as banning someone from Twitter. I’m still convinced that it all begins in the same place. I still think the impulse to silence “the other” and lump people into categories (like you felt I did to you) is not the answer. It’s the source of the problem.

You’ve got my number.

Dan Hazen is the community pastor at Allen Creek Community Church in Marysville.

Herald Forum

The Herald Forum invites community members to submit essays on topics of importance and interest to them.

Essays typically are between 400 and 600 words in length, although exceptions for longer pieces can be made.

For more information about the Herald Forum, write Herald Opinion editor Jon Bauer at jbauer@heraldnet.com or call him at 425-339-3466.

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