The new Colin Kaepernick advertisement makes me uncomfortable.
Last week, Nike came out with the ad campaign celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the rallying cry “Just Do It” featuring the former NFL star. Perhaps you’re familiar with the ad and the discussion.
“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”
The Facebook posts I’ve seen make me uncomfortable. You know what I’m talking about: those re-posts of the news articles featuring those lengthy comment strings containing lots of CAPITALIZED WORDS and EXCLAMATION PO!!!!INTS where nobody convinces anybody of anything ever. This past Wednesday, I could be found awake at six a.m. and commenting on one said string from my bathroom. I had been unconscious ten minutes earlier, and now I had some thoughts I NEEDED to drop to some dude I’d never met. What service!
The jokes about the subject make me uncomfortable. This week, I saw multiple spoof ads on the subject, including a photo of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan featuring the tagline, “Believe in something… even if it means taking a knee.” I’ve heard much more offensive jokes (just look up the one with Caitlyn Jenner, for crying out loud), but what makes me uncomfortable about it is that most people would rather joke than engage a difficult issue. I’ve fallen into that camp many times myself.
The conversations I’ve had with dear family members on the subject make me uncomfortable. I was involved in one such conversation recently. When this happens, and I’m with people I love who don’t see the issue through the same lens as me, my throat tightens and my stomach begins to feel nauseous. I trip over my words and my voice becomes shaky. It’s a feeling of inadequacy, and I often leave conversations like that feeling like I could have articulated my feelings on the subject better.
That, at the heart, is why this whole thing makes me uncomfortable. Did you catch it? I make the whole thing about me. I want to explain my perspective, my learned view, the reason I believe what I do. I make it about me, and I don’t listen.
I’m a white guy who has never had to sacrifice everything, let alone anything of substance. I’ve never fought overseas or served our country in the military and I’ve never had to worry about how my skin color affects the way I’m treated. For folks who fall into those camps, the uncomfortable nature of these conversations isn’t a choice or minor inconvenience but a daily and lifelong reality. In much the same way, a lot of people desperately want to stop talking about 9/11 every year, but the woman who lost her mother or the teen who lost his dad on that horrific day might want to talk about it and remember. I confess that I don’t always do a good job empathizing with people for whom these issues are more than a divisive headline or Facebook comment string.
I’ve spent some time learning, reading, and developing a view on the issues of police brutality and related systemic realities such as mass incarceration. I think these things are important to talk about, and we shouldn’t shy away from them. But what I haven’t done is spent the time listening to service members, police officers, or people who are close to those who serve. I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about the news sources I consume and whether they represent a broad and diverse set of perspectives. I haven’t always done a great job listening. I’ve heard what people have to say, but I haven’t really listened. There’s a simple but important difference.
Hearing means using your ears to hear the substance of what someone says and often results in applying the thoughts in your head to make an immediate comment in response that’s often based upon your own experiences.
Really listening to someone is much deeper. It means having the ability to explain back to that person what they’re saying as many times as it takes for the other person to know with certainty that you know what they are saying and where they are coming from. It means not making the conversation about yourself until the other person feels completely understood.
As a married man, I’ve learned this the hard way, and I continue to learn it. On top of that, in a great instance of divine humor, my wife is a counselor, and has given me the grace to learn the difference. Other married people will not need to hear twice that I do not always do this well.
What if we dropped our obsession with trying to be right and convincing others and accomplishing something in comment sections and simply made it a goal to listen and truly understand someone else? What if that was enough?
In the spirit of cheesiness and unabashed cliché, I’m creating a new rallying cry. It’s nothing unique, but it’s something we need to come back to again and again and again. The cry is meant to be heard by myself, and perhaps you need it too:
“Believe in listening to someone, even if it means sacrificing your desire to be heard.”
Just Do It.
Matt Cambridge (’12) is a new dad to Chloe, husband to the beautiful Kendahl, and a human resources professional at Boeing. He lives in St. Louis and enjoys eating Hershey’s kisses, riding roller coasters, and watching the latest stand-up specials on Netflix. You can read more of his work at laughcrythink.com.