James repeats the same question over and over. “Can I tell you something?” It proceeds almost everything he says. I think it is because, as the littlest in the house, he is sometimes ignored. His voice gets lost in the stories and the errands and the distractions of a busy family. What is important to him isn’t always important to everyone else. Eventually, he gets frustrated and yells. “NO ONE IS LISTENING TO ME.”
While I’m sure that I’m guilty, I notice it most when it happens with his dad and sister. David and Cady have minds with a singular focus. When they are doing something, it is almost impossible for either of them to stop and divert their attention to something new. Their minds are absorbed with their own thoughts.
Most of the time, it is something simple. James wants to show Cady a new trick he learned in Minecraft, or he wants David to check out something on a video game they are playing. It isn’t the “thing” that is important. It is the fact he wants their attention. He wants them to listen to him. He wants to matter.
He starts quiet and small. “Hey Daddy, let’s check this out.” “Cady, did you see this hilarious video?” When he gets no response, he tries again. And again. And again. Next I hear the whimper in his voice. The hurt. The pleading. “Please listen to me.”
His frustration builds and builds. The longer his cries are ignored, the worse his reaction becomes. Eventually, he moves to all out anger, screaming, running from the room, slamming doors, sometimes throwing things, hiding away from the person that caused him pain. This is the point where the offender begins to notice there is a problem.
“What’s wrong with you? Why are you acting that way?”
“I just wanted you to listen to me. I was trying to tell you something.”
“I can’t believe you are acting that way. It is totally inappropriate.”
Is it? What does it feel like to be ignored? To tell people over and over and over again that there is a problem. What is like to try so hard to get people to listen to you, but to never get any attention until you do something they think is inappropriate? And then, after you’ve tried for so long to get someone to notice you by doing all of the right things, they label you a criminal, a loser, a thug. I wonder what that feels like. I wonder how much it hurts.
We, the majority of white America, have a focus problem. We are not paying attention to the people who matter. For too long, we have been intent on the things that are important to us and ignored the people around us while they have asked politely, while they have begged and pleaded, while they have cried out for us to please just listen. Now we are witnessing the fruits of our apathy.
Do I think violence is the answer? No. Never. But I do understand it.
I think the fact that we have ignored the voices of our sisters and brothers is at the root of the problem. I think part of the solution is for us to not focus on the results of our inaction, but to stop and listen to what the voices crying out in anger are trying to tell us.
This is the screaming. This is the running from the room. This is the slamming doors. This is the throwing things. This is our wake-up call. And instead of getting angry back, instead of putting our thoughts, our focus, our importance on these actions, it is time for us to stop and listen to the people crying out for someone to listen. It is time for us to tell them that they matter. It is time for us to open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts.
It is time for us to listen.