With all that has been going on in politics in the United States over the last year, it can be easy to think that it is a new thing that we as Americans and even human beings aren’t doing a good job of listening to each other. Let me explain what I mean.
Last week I read an article by US Army veteran green beret Nate Boyer. It was an open letter addressing the controversy over what, if anything, should be done about players kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before NFL games. Interestingly, the author of that open letter met with Colin Kaepernick after his first protest — sitting on the bench during the national anthem. In the meeting, Boyer made it a point to listen to Kapernick. Afterward, he felt that Kapernick had listened to his perspective as a veteran. It was after that meeting that Kapernick started kneeling next to his teammates instead of sitting on the bench. Boyer expressed that he has no issue with that and doesn’t feel it is disrespectful. There are plenty of others who do feel it is inappropriate. But he points out that the real issue here is not the dispute. It is that we are so stuck in our own perspectives that we are unwilling to accept that someone else could think very differently about an issue than we do. His prescription for the current dispute over this issue? The President of the United States (who has repeatedly expressed that he feels such protests are wrong) and Kolin Kapernick should meet and listen to each other.
I opened this post by saying that this lack of listening feels new. But it’s not. This afternoon I watched the movie Hacksaw Ridge. It was released last year and tells the story of a soldier in World War II who refused to carry a gun. He saved 75 of his fellow soldiers during a gruesome battle and was the only conscientious objector to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. And no one listened to him, either. His fellow soldiers assumed that he was a coward for his refusal to carry a gun. The fact is that he felt very strongly about the war and his need to serve. He just wanted to do it saving lives as an Army medic. Due to this lack of understanding, his fellow soldiers and commanding officers tried to get him discharged or make him quit. He refused to quit or carry a gun. After the battle of Okinawa ended on the first day, he stayed on the ridge continuing to risk his life to pull injured men to safety — 75 of them, including some injured Japanese. They had refused to listen to Private Desmond Doss.
One way we can learn from Private Doss is to follow his actions. He did not spend a lot of time trying to convince other of his convictions or even try to make them understood. Instead he acted on his convictions and tried to understand those around him. Now that is something that seems to be missing from our current civil and social discourse. I only hope that we will learn from a hero of the Greatest Generation and follow the advice of recent veteran Nate Boyer and simply listen to each other with a heart to understand. Only then will true progress be possible.