Megaphone Man screams gigantic curses at the oncoming traffic. I stop my bike for a moment, stand next to him, not in solidarity, but not in confrontation either.
“Is it possible you might be wrong? I mean, not entirely wrong. Not even wrong in your message, maybe. But is it possible that nobody will ever believe God loves them when they’re being shouted at?”
Megaphone Man shouts louder, so that I can’t even hear his voice. He can’t, either. All I can hear is volume and power of a messy, mechanical amplification. It’s a crazy cacauphony of hell and fire and maybe even a little brimstone every once in awhile. I can hear him, but I can’t listen. So I ride away, as he quotes verses in King James English in such a way that he resembles a Screaming Shakespeare on 19th Avenue.
Last week, I became Megaphone Man. I engaged in a ridiculous debate on a few blogs regarding home-schooling and un-schooling. I grew defensive on this blog when I commented on comments. I felt attacked (though I wasn’t) and I looked toward language (the more flowery the better) to power-up in an effort to defend the self-evident.
I quit listening.
This happens sometimes at a cocktail party when someone says we should deport all the immigrants and I forget to ask questions, but instead launch into a heated debate. It happens when I’m really tired and I push my way through with my children, using manipulation and coercion instead of gentle persuasion or patience. It happens in the classroom when a kid interrupts me unexpectedly when I’m giving directions and so I snarl back with sarcasm and my words become venomous.
Here are a few reasons I quit listening:
- Victim Status: When I feel like a victim, I lash out. I fight back. I make it about power and payback rather than humility. This last week, I began to feel like a victim after someone compared my profession to that of a slave-driver. The truth is we’re all wounded in some way or another by our experiences in schooling. Instead of hearing the words of a wounded soul, I heard an attack on me.
- Shame: I’ve written before about how moments of shaming (from parents, school and church) lead me to a place where I feel the need to be right. When I was in the primary grades, I once asked a teacher, “If this is preparing us for the real world, what kind of fantasy world is school?” She laughed. It didn’t matter that she was a kind woman. It awakened in me this intense drive to be right even when I don’t vocalize it.
- Bad Metaphors: I use bad metaphors that prevent any kind of real debate. I once wrote, “Learning can’t be measured. Schools know this, but then boast of test scores. It’s like finding love immeasurable, but then deciding to post your penis size on the marquee outside your home.” Sex is generally a bad metaphor for education and it doesn’t leave much room for a conversation. Plus it can come across as a little creepy.
- Semantic Environment: Often, there is a clash in the semantic environment. I might be using natural language and talking to someone using a pseudo-scientific corporate language to discuss learning. As long as this happens, there is no common language and I stop listening altogether. Instead of looking at it as a new perspective from a different viewpoint, I shut people off who seem too “corporate” in their approach to education.
- Competition: This might sound cliche, but my dad used to warn me, “Nobody wins an argument.” If I’m looking to win, I’m not looking to listen.
- Lack of Nuance: For all the times that I argue for nuance and paradox, I can slip into a place where I fail to see the nuance and push others to believe my ideas, systems or beliefs.
- Unexpected: Sometimes someone says something so bizarre or outrageous that I miss the beauty of it. I miss the need for the radical alternatives. I need a reminder that while I might believe strongly in nuance, a paradox is often an acceptance of two very distinct extremes rather than a moderate middle.
- Language: I get way too critical of tone. If something sounds arrogant or pejorative, I tune a person out. If your voice isn’t humble, it’s hard for me to listen to you. And yet, there is an arrogance to this approach. I expect a humble voice, but I have really arrogant ears.
- Imperfection: I live my life in the imperfect tense. Always imperfect. Sometimes tense. I usually listen better when I remember this. But when I forget this, I get really arrogant and selfish and I stop listening.