This week on Talkline I have interviewed a couple of people I consider to be opinion leaders in the black community in West Virginia—former WVU Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, David Fryson, and Faith Baptist Church Pastor Matthew Watts.
After the Fryson interview, I received this text: “OMG when you have this race pimp on I lose all respect for you. You do everything but apologize for being white you disgust me.”
Another text said it sounded as though I am ashamed of being white.
Fryson is outspoken and I may have gone a little soft on him. I pushed back more in my interview with Reverend Watts. But all of this has got me thinking about my role as a talk show host and, more importantly, as a human being during this painful period.
I am neither ashamed nor particularly proud of being white; I just happen to be white. Less than four percent of the state’s population is black, so it is not surprising that most of my friends look like I do.
It would be disingenuous to try to pretend I know how black people feel about what happened to George Floyd. I can look at the video and easily see the overreaction by now-fired officer Derek Chauvin, but I cannot feel that same pain because my life experiences are so different.
But what I can try to do is listen to the voices of those who feel aggrieved, I mean really listen, and that is not as easy as it sounds. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
As a talk show host, I am frequently guilty of that.
Psychologist Dr. Karyn Hall writes that one of the benefits of really listening is that it validates the communication and that can lead to acceptance. “Validation doesn’t mean agreeing or approving. Validation is a way of communicating that the relationship is important and solid even when you disagree on the issues.”
Hall explains there are six levels of validation. The first, and the easiest, is just being present. The top rung of validation is called “radical genuineness.” That is when “you understand the emotion someone is feeling on a very deep level,” possibly because you have had a similar experience.
I am not sure how many of us can, or want to try, to get to that level of communication with someone who is different from us and with whom we may disagree. After all, it is much easier—and more comfortable—to surround ourselves with those who share a similar world view. And sometimes it feels more natural to argue than to listen.
But we do not live in cocoons. We share a vast and diverse nation. To enjoy the full experience of living in this great country, and to help ensure domestic tranquility, we (me included) could try listening just a little bit more.