This afternoon a colleague and I were chewing on the question,
How do you really get people who are in conflict to listen to one another?
She told me about this reality show Duck Dynasty written about in today's NY Times. Robertson, one of the characters on the show, is a 67 year old man who grew up in a segregated South. He said about black suffering,
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field. ...They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ — not a word! ...Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
From his perspective, he never "heard" their suffering because he was listening for it in his way of speaking. If people were not saying "those doggone white people" they were not suffering. This is not uncommon.
He wanted them to issue a formal complaint the way a white person would. But he did not understand that the ways in which blacks did not have the privilege to speak in this way or did not believe they would be heard if they did so.
We can hear the language we know. If that is privilege, we hear privilege.
In this way conflict resolution ought to focus less on getting people listen to one another and more on expanding the amount of frequencies we can actually hear. True, Mr. Robertson, they may have been happier while singing, but they surely were not being treated as equals. Much inequality is invisible to the privileged.
There's a terrific scene in Jane Austin's Mansfield Park when Fanny Price begins to learn about the suffering in Antigua caused by the slave trade. Her mind grapples to understand what's happening, but as smart and educated as she is, she cannot. The ways in which africans were being treated was so beyond her world, she could not really process it, never mind take action.
This is just a reminder that just because someone isn't telling us they are suffering, doesn't mean they are not. Maybe this is a good way to enter this holiday week...enjoy the "singing" and just know that those around you may be suffering in ways you cannot even begin to imagine or hear. That, my friend, is the privilege and gift of your well-being...and maybe, just maybe, you can help guide people out of their suffering.
(for ways out of that suffering...see my blog on Understanding and Releasing Suffering