As our country continues to erupt into shouting matches over everything from politics to racism, I think a lot of us have given up on even having a conversation. Feeling unheard was a common feeling for me growing up, but I found a way to change that, and it’s making all the difference in my relationships—even when we talk politics. What I discovered is that being heard isn’t just about how you talk. It’s about how you listen.
Right now, things are literally black or white, with conversations predominantly about Black Lives Matter or white privilege. In the current climate, I do not see a lot of healthy conversations happening. It is usually one side shouting over the other. But there’s also a large portion of us in the middle who are simply trying to understand what’s going on and are unsure how to engage in the conversation.
I have a unique perspective because I’m neither black nor white.
I’m Chinese. As an Asian American, I’ve found that I am able to navigate conversations with both black and white people that they otherwise couldn’t have with each other. I was rarely called upon for my thoughts, but I also was non-threatening to where others felt safe enough to share their opinions.
Growing up in Ohio, where the Asian American population is 2%, I’ve learned how to have conversations with people who don’t think or look like me. I’ve learned that not everything is black or white. There’s a whole lot of gray. And it’s in that gray area where I’ve found common ground with others.
I believe you can, too, because the common ground is empathy—the ability to understand and share another’s feelings. Empathy is a skill that you can learn. Having empathy is about being able to shut up and listen. It’s about choosing to live in the tension between the two sides rather than choosing to side with one to alienate the other.
Empathy builds bridges and relationships. Opinions polarize and divide.
What I’ve seen and heard from one side is decades and centuries of anger, hurt, fear, and injustice coming to light. From the other side, I see and hear guilt, shame, anger, and passivity. There is nothing inherently wrong with feeling or expressing these emotions, but once you have posted your opinion online or reacted to someone else’s, you may have alienated that specific person or group of people. Instead of creating an opportunity to learn from each other, you’ve effectively shut down the possibility of a conversation.
When our country is in a state of “which side are you on,” that only further divides us. But how different could it be if we all did a better job trying to understand one another through actual conversations? If we laid down our pride around our beliefs and truly cared about someone else’s perspective, maybe even learned their why?
Pride says, “I don’t understand where you’re coming from, so you’re wrong.” Humility says, “I don’t understand where you’re coming from, but I care about you and want to know more.”
I’m not saying don’t express your thoughts or opinions, but before you post something online, stop and evaluate where that desire and emotion is coming from. Have you stopped and talked to someone who doesn’t look like you or think like you (and by talk, I mean listen)?
You can’t help but grow empathy when you look at another human being’s eyes, see their body language, and hear their tone of voice. Real change begins in the heart, with having real conversations, in person, face to face, shoulder to shoulder. When you’re able to make that kind of impact on someone’s life, that’s when you will truly be heard.
Empathy can also be about more than just bridging race relations. What would marriages look like if we listened more and defended less? How would our parenting be different if we sought to understand our kids before correcting them? How would friendships be different if we cared more about what the other person has to say than sharing our latest achievement?
God cares very much about justice, but He cares far more about what’s in your heart.
“You must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.”
- Hosea 12:6
“The Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore, he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him.”
- Isaiah 30:18
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
- Isaiah 1:17
Return to Him. Wait for Him. Learn from Him.
Anyone who follows Jesus is called to be a peacemaker. This is not the same as being a peacekeeper.
A peacekeeper is passive and tries to keep the status quo and maintains amity. A peacemaker pursues relationships by reconciling people who disagree. No movement is going to last if we don’t first seek the only ruler who is good to His promises. His justice is already here, and He offers it to you and me. His name is Jesus.
“And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
- Luke 16:7-8
My pastor and mentor, Chuck Mingo, said it best when teaching from the story of Esther:
“You were created for a time such as this.”
We are the chosen people, a body of believers in a time of pandemic and racial tensions. As Psalm 139 puts it, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
Spend time with God. Ask Him to search your heart and your thoughts. Then spend time with someone who doesn’t look like you. Ask them to share their story. Then listen. Everyone deserves to be heard, but no one will be heard in a shouting match. It only happens in conversation. And it is only when you practice empathy that the conversation can begin.