March 18, 2018

Listening: Hard, Brave and Necessary

Hearing is one thing. Listening is quite another.

Hearing is noticing the neighbor's dog barking and brushing it off as a nuisance. Listening is noticing the dog barking, and wondering if the dog is barking in alarm at a potential threat to myself or my family.

We hear a lot of facts lately that leave room for us to fine-tune them to a palatable truth. The un-palatable truth is, if I'm being honest, I've heard a lot of facts, but I don't know whether I've done the work of listening to facts.

Listening is work.

It'd be me listening to you and the words you reflexively choose; noticing whether your arms are held close to your person, or whether you lean in toward me as you speak; whether you feel comfort enough to look me in the eye or if you're nervously looking off in the distance. And if I'm really listening, I just might be able to hear what you don't say.

Then ultimately, I'll understand your facts, your truth.

But gray areas cloud facts. Gray areas like my neighborhood, my upbringing, my unique experience walking on this planet might be different from yours, and here's where it gets sticky: you might believe you have facts, and I might believe you have gray areas, and vice-versa.

That's when we stop listening and end up jockeying for a win or a loss.

It's exactly what happened in this country during August of 2014 when the fact was that an 18-year-old Michael Brown died after being shot by a police officer.

I wrote a gray area piece about it because I was really struggling. A few terse reactionary comments on social media in response to sharing the piece let me know that other folks had their own gray areas.

I was deep enough in my grieving that I really don't know if I was even listening back then. And I don't know that the folks with terse comments were listening either. We were hearing, but we weren't doing the hard work of listening.

Until The Flood, a Milwaukee Repertory Theater production gave me the opportunity to experience -- to listen -- to facts including 911 calls, viewpoints from interviewed Missouri residents no matter how plain or disturbingly raw.

It's been almost a week since I've seen Until The Flood, and even knowing the facts and hearing the gray areas of opinion, the only answer I walked away with was that I need to hear less and listen more.

Listening isn't just hard, it's brave...and it really can move us toward peace and understanding.

*Until the Flood is playing now and runs through April 22nd
Some shows begin with a moderated QandA and post-show audience talk-back/discussions*

Sgt. Delmar Williams is a Sergeant in the Milwaukee Police Department. He shared a 5 minute response to Dael Orlandersmith’s Until the Flood. This response is just one of many that are sharing their thoughts on the subject. To hear all of the responses, go to

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