By Victoria Lynn Hall
I’ve had some difficult conversations with my friends this week. Some of them were about politics or race but all of them were about more than politics and race. They were about expending the effort to really listen and hear each other, to understand and acknowledge the validity of each others point of view, and to honestly express our needs and expectations. For braving this difficulty and expending this effort, I believe we were rewarded with a greater understanding of ourselves, each other and relationships in general, as well as a deepening of our friendships.
However, there was one difficult conversation that didn’t have such heartwarming consequences. This took place on Twitter with a now former friend that I have felt unfairly criticized and judged by in the past. This person had decided to comment on a tweet where I had pointed out how poorly organized, misguided and ineffectual I believed the “blackout Tuesday” effort was. Had anyone else said the exact same thing she did, I probably would have gently pointed out that she needn’t have bothered to point out the good intentions of the organizers or the participants of this event, since I never questioned that. Instead, already knowing how little they valued me and my own intentions, I felt I had nothing to lose in that moment by speaking my mind more frankly and venting some of the anger I felt towards them as well as this continual need people seem to have to take personal offense to constructive criticism that isn’t even aimed at them.
As a privileged, white woman, I don’t pretend to know exactly what it must be like to be a black person in America. Still, I have to imagine that, if I had this reaction to someone who had only mildly wounded me in the past, that anyone belonging to a race that had been systemically brutalized by people belonging to another race for centuries would understandably react with anger or indignation to any perceived or actual slight by a member of that race.
In my mild confrontation, this person expressed surprise at the bluntness of my reply because they were only seeing it in light of the current circumstance and not as a result of our previous interactions. I don’t particularly blame them for that in this instance but when it comes to race relations, we need to do better. We need to educate ourselves and be aware of the historical and current events that have contributed to the perspective of black Americans and make that part of our perspective too. Only then will we be able to hear them on the level that they are speaking from and respond with a willingness to understand rather than being defensive or condemning.
In the difficult conversations I had with my trusted and supportive friends this week, I came to realize that I had unfairly interpreted some of their actions. I had ascribed meaning to things they said or didn’t say based on painful experiences in my past. I wouldn’t have reached this conclusion had they not responded with an inclination to listen thoughtfully and understand my complaints. I owe so much healing and progress to the fact that my friends practice such kindness and self awareness.
I hate to think of all the healing and progress we are missing out on now because of those of us who do not.
A self taught artist and creative entrepreneur, Victoria Lynn Hall lives in the Kansas City area with 4 spoiled cats. She believes in art and the magic of kindness.