We all have our roots and sometimes they are replanted in the most peculiar ways.
I grew up in a management family. Dad was in middle management of General Motors, a position that gave us a comfortable, not extravagant, lifestyle. Growing up, I remember him talking every couple of years about “our side, their side,” but had no clue what that meant. I would discover later that those words came up when the union’s contract came up for renewal.
His view about unions came through scattered statements over time to the effect of … they should appreciate what they have … they wouldn’t have jobs without the company … they’re asking for the moon … some of them sit around doing nothing and expect to be paid … stuff like that. But I didn’t think too much about it, because it didn’t involve “me.”
While in college studying journalism at the University of Evansville, I worked summers back home in Anderson, Indiana, on the daily Herald newspaper. Dream job for a kid like me, covering mostly little, but important stories, though I did have several front page pieces.
One day I was assigned to interview union picketers outside one of the local GM factories for a story, you know … how and what are they doing, impact of the strike on their families, are they hopeful for the strike to end soon, telling their side of the story.
Even though I’m an introvert by nature, when I had my reporters notepad and pencil in hand, I turned into Nancy Drew on steroids when getting the story. I remembered standing along the busy road talking to the men on the picket line, listening and taking new questions as they came to mind, as a good journalist should.
Suddenly one of the men with his picket sign in the air started shouting at and moving toward me, and I panicked, fearful I might be attacked. I stepped back, inches from the road where cars whizzed by. After the panic came the paralysis, not even comprehending what he was yelling or what I should do.
Another man finally stepped toward me and said, “It’s okay. He has trouble talking and is trying to share his feelings with you.” The man who had yelled nodded that his friend had spoken for him. I started to breathe again and felt the blood return to my hands so I could write.
Two firsts happened to me that day: I listened to the other side of the story, “them,” and I discovered that some people have physical challenges that may prevent them from communicating “normally.”
I’m sure I mentioned my experience at the dinner table about meeting strikers for a story, but I can’t remember what Dad said. However, I kept my emotional response to this event to myself … not knowing that at that very moment, I sprouted some new roots.
No, I didn’t start picketing for the union … but I found a new voice and drive to get both sides of every story, and there always is. More often than not, there’s no absolutely right or wrong side … just opinions and viewpoints as we all absorb and release information differently.
However, I have spent many years picketing for understanding basic human needs … why and how communication heals and lack of it severs relationships. That man yelling at me 45 years ago because he wasn’t being heard taught me how to listen to those individuals who have been affected by stroke, brain injury or other condition that limits their ability to speak “normally.”
They just want to be heard. We all do. That is how I’ve learned to communicate in other ways, by studying body language, touch, reading their handwriting, watching them point to letters on a board to construct words, listening to one word at a time … No, I can’t possibly understand everything and everyone, but I can understand the importance of eye contact when they can see … or touching their hand or arm to say “I see YOU. I hear YOU. I care about YOU.”
I’m sickened today by how politics has cut an artery through our nation, families and friendships … as people have forgotten how to listen. They only demand to speak. The people who shout their opinions, often fueled by misinformation and downright lies, thrive on the power of igniting flames of hatred … which gives them more ego to feed their desire of power, totally clueless — or perhaps giddy — on the path of destruction they leave behind.
This is not a post about politics. It’s a tale of how listening and paying attention will and can save us from ourselves … how compromise is not as painful as we’ve been led to believe … how striking bargains for the greater good will ensure our survival.
We hear of and talk about the western wildfires and wonder if a careless action led to their spread.
We should be talking more about the careless actions of some individuals who can’t see the forest of humans for the trees …
If we only labored harder for compromise and communication … how much easier our lives would be …
Hey, drop me a line at [email protected] or leave a comment below. I’d love to speak to your group, organization or company about working our way through the pain and challenges of everyday life. You want straight talk? You got me!