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Point of View: The Importance of Listening

man listening - deposit photos

Last weekend, we attended Placer Pride. It’s one of the smaller local Sacramento area prides, but it’s also the most vibrant. It was launched just two years ago in a fairly conservative county, and the people who come to the festival are always thrilled to have us there because we provide something they have in short supply.

This year, for the first time, some of the haters found the event too. Three young white men stood at the edge of the park with a bull horn and speaker (right behind our author booth, as luck would have it) and spent three hours serenading us with out-of-context biblical quotes, meandering exposition on queers and jews and Catholics, and words like “debauchery” and “perversion” and my personal favorite, “jezebel.”

Every now and then, they would happen upon something I actually agreed with, like “God made everyone perfect.” If they had only stopped there, and not added “and then you choose to become a sinner.”

They were mostly left alone. The police made them move to the far side of the narrow street, and a group of festival goers made a wall in front of them, holding rainbow flags up to block them out – visually, at least, but not the sound. At one memorable point, four different versions of Spider Man were holding up those flags. And eventually their blathering settled into a kind of white noise, with only the occasional word filtering through to my consciousness while I focused on selling books.

It was a warm day, and several of our folks approached them to offer them bottled water. They were all rebuffed. Maybe they thought it was queer water, which would turn them gay if they accepted it?

Finally, after about three hours, the battery on their speaker went out, and they packed it up and left.

Meanwhile, inside the festival itself, an entirely different experience was unfolding. The Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus and a number of local drag queens performed. Food trucks served yummy roadside concoctions. And visitor after visitor stopped by our booth and browsed through our titles, and bought a book or two (or six!). Within that audience, six new-to-us authors came by. Most had not yet been published, and these newbie writers were especially excited to find us, to talk to us, and to tell us about the amazing things they are working on.

It was healing to see these mostly younger folks who were on fire with the idea of writing and putting something new and amazing into the world. One in particular told me all about the graphic novel she’s working on with a friend, and all the thought that had gone into building an intricate plot and a wonderfully unique world in which to tell her stories.

This morning, I was thinking about what to write for this column. The contrast between the two groups – the three men on the side of the road intent on tearing down that which they don’t understand, and the fire in those at the festival who were intent on building up and creating something new – struck me.

Maybe those men never had anyone to truly listen to them. Not to their queer-phobic ranting, but about the things that really mattered. Maybe they were never taught to listen, but only how to speak, and so they learned not to listen to anyone else. Maybe they learned that shouting was the way to get things done, and that listening to and understanding others was a weakness.

And maybe what these new authors needed the most is someone to listen to them. To marvel at their daring worlds and their beautiful ideas, and to encourage them to keep pushing ahead, even when the obstacles are great and the world beats them down.

Sometimes the most important thing you can do to bring true change into the world is to slow down, set aside your own wants and needs, and truly listen to someone else. It’s not easy – believe me, I’m a talker at heart. I’ve even been paid (twice in my life, if I’m honest) to just shut up for a few minutes.

But I’ve taught myself the joys and importance of listening – of being the sounding board for someone else. Of taking in what they say and reflecting it back to them, and sharing in the excitement of their endeavors.

And guess what? Once they’re done, they’re often willing to do the same for you.

So to all the haters in the world, all the folks who are so certain of themselves that they don’t need or want to listen to others, a humble suggestion: Just for one day, give it a break. Put down the bullhorn and engage. And listen.

The world could change, if we all listened a little more.

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