I keep all kinds of random notes in my phone. When an idea intrigues me, I write it down so I don’t forget. Today, while looking through past notes, I came across the following and think it’s worth posting. Here you’ll find the random musings of a millennial, considering the divide that exists between my generation and many of our elders.
We want to learn from you. The problem is we don’t trust you. True trust only grows through relationship. It grows not by speaking, but by listening. And once I feel that you listen and understand, when I feel like you truly know me–not just about me, but you know how I think and the intentions of my heart–then I know you love me when your actions promote my good. Unfortunately, that’s not how many of our relationships work. Particularly across barriers that keep us apart.
Right now, the barriers are most evident as we scrutinize people with power, and how they use it. Two years ago, the riots in Ferguson captured my attention. I began hearing stories from people of color, whose experiences in our country were so different from my own. Then about a year and a half ago, I took a course at seminary on the church, justice, and society. I learned from an amazing professor, Dr. Johann Mostert, who is a white South African man. He was a minister in South Africa during apartheid, and for the beginning of our class, he shared his story of what it was like being a white pastor caring for orphans when apartheid began to be abolished. Stories of how his black brothers and sisters had been violently treated and discriminated against were revealed. He came to realize the privileges and power he had of which he had been completely unaware.
Since this time, I have been working to listen to the stories of my friends who have different experiences from me simply because the pigment of their skin has a darker shade than mine. Though both of our passports–if they’ve been afforded the luxury of traveling abroad–mark us as American, the culture of our families and local communities have many unique distinctions from each other.
I’ve been learning that things like my skin color, my upper middle class family, and my education, grant me a kind of power that my friends lack. So how will I use my privileges? Will I use my power on behalf of those without it–the vulnerable and marginalized? Or will I use my power for myself, to keep and grow it, to protect and advance me?
I cannot truly love my black or brown neighbors without listening to their stories and acting for their goods. I cannot guarantee I will be perfect, but I am certainly trying.
Fear marks our divides, because I think we all feel a sense of powerlessness, and we fear how the other will use his or her power. As young people, our elders have power that–it often seems–is used to burden us. Yet our elders feel that they are losing power, and fear how we will use the power we gain. They fear that we will act foolishly and forsake the good they’ve worked to accomplish.
Our fear keeps us on opposite sides of the table, throwing accusations and growing our divides. But imagine if we came to sit side by side.
Imagine if we listened and sought to understand each other. Imagine if we said, “Let me speak on your behalf,” and we acted for each other’s good.