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What Do You Hear?

When I was little my mother took me to church and the preacher said: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!” I remember thinking that was the stupidest thing I had ever heard. What else do you have ears for? To suck up spaghetti?

Now that I’ve lived a little longer and learned a lot more, I have discovered just because someone has ears, doesn’t mean that person has ears to hear a particular thing, from a particular person, or at a particular time.

Did you ever tell somebody something and they ignored it or discounted it; but then someone else told them the very same thing and they thought it was brilliant? It’s not that they didn’t have ears to hear what was being said. They didn’t have ears to hear it being said by you. That condition is called selective hearing, and most people are not even aware when they are doing it.

Our hearing can be blocked by our perceptions, our pain, our pleasure, or our pasts. Consequently, instead of hearing what is actually said, people sometimes hear what they think the other person probably meant. They hear what they themselves would have meant if they had said it. They hear what somebody else tells them the speaker thinks or wants.

As a psychologist I help people understand what keeps them from hearing what people are actually saying. As a coach I help people improve communication skills to make sure the message they receive is the message the other person sent, and vice versa. This has become especially important with the aggravated racial tensions around Black Lives Matter.

In working with clients and colleagues on how the racially charged environment is impacting their lives, their leadership, and their organizations, I discovered the reaction many had to “Black Lives Matter” was triggered, at least in part, by what they had ears to hear. Over several months I conducted an informal poll, and it was amazing the different things people heard when I asked them, “What do you hear when someone says Black Lives Matter?"

A bunch of people said they heard “Black lives matter.”

However, a whole bunch of others heard something else. They heard a version of:

Notice how a statement about the value of black lives was heard as an attack on white lives?

And not just by white people. No one in this poll is hateful. No one in this poll is a nut. No one in this poll is a white supremacist. Everyone in this poll is humane. Everyone in this poll is intelligent. Everyone in this poll is an advocate of truth and justice.

So just what did they have ears to hear? Or what didn’t they have ears to hear?

What do you have ears to hear?

As you move toward your higher level, I challenge you to examine your honest to goodness thoughts and reactions around “Black Lives Matter.” For the next week or so consider how the things you see and hear might relate to this statement. Try to answer the following questions for yourself, and also from the possible perceptions of people you might encounter or observe.

1. Do black lives matter to you? Yes or no.

2. If no, do any lives matter to you? Yes or no.

3. If yes, what about the lives that matter make them valuable to you?

4. Do only certain black lives matter to you? Yes or no.

5. And if so, which ones don’t matter?

6. Do black lives matter to you only in certain contexts? Yes or no.

7. And if so, which contexts?

8. If black lives matter to you conditionally, do all other lives matter to you conditionally also? Yes or no.

9. And if so, do all lives matter to you based on the same conditions, or do you apply different conditions to different lives?

Throughout the month of February we will revisit the assertion that black lives matter. We invite you to join us on this journey as we explore this idea from various perspectives that influence our thinking and help us fly or fall.

And don’t forget to check out the Black Lives Matter collection in the Higher Level Store.

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