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Are We Listening or Are We Raging?

September 28, 2018

 

I volunteered for the Cynthia Nixon campaign this summer not because I thought she was the best candidate for governor or a had a good shot at winning, I did it to learn about voters. Who are the people who show up? What are they thinking? What can I learn from them? What can they learn from me? I got the opportunity to communicate with registered voters from all over the state of New York, most of whom, to be honest, were pretty much set on voting Cuomo dating back to my earliest voter communications in June. 

 

Though I knew Cynthia was not widely admired due in part to some political particularities and, yes, her celebrity, I learned that many people simply weren’t up for change. Particularly at this time, when a celebrity who runs our country cannot pronounce the word “anonymous.” I also learned that I naturally didn’t want to engage with people who offered me replies like “why would I vote for that libtard lesbian who gets f**ked up the a** on that tv show?” There were, however, some who were interested in learning about her issues. And while the label, “democratic socialist” scared them, they asked questions and seemed appreciative for the information. Those particular people did something that is important now more than ever as a voter and as a human in this country: they listened. 

 

In acting school, we train how to act like human beings. One of my early acting teachers, deeply rooted in the Meisner technique and, who later became a mentor in my life, used to walk around me and other acting students mid-scene singing “What do real people do? What do real people do?” Then he would stop and stare at us with a smirk before asking us to start from the top of the scene and “this time, like real people.” In retrospect, his wild condescension sort of gnaws at me, though I remain appreciative that he was reminding me, the actor and human, what is important from the start. Far beyond the time when we begin including text and behaviors brought on by information through text and situation and style and on and on and on, he reminded me the most important part of any interaction is to listen.

 

In day-to-day life, when we think about meaningful moments with special people over dinner or pillow talk, I guarantee you these are passive experiences. No one was thinking about the next funny or insightful thing to say just to say it. Sometimes the story you want to tell or the feeling you want to emote or the opinion you want to state is simply not needed. Chances are endless verbalizing feels misplaced or senseless. Why? You are listening.

 

Interrupting is a less humanistic approach in conversation insofar as most of us have the ability to retain information, mull it over and then respond instead of quickly slicing through incomplete thoughts to state our own. When we hear information, we release all kinds of chemicals in our brain which signal us to empathize or get excited. When we are stressed, these chemicals signal for us to take action. Whatever it was those 11 republican senators did today as they sat across Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford testifying before the judiciary senate committee, felt similar to staring at my scene partner running over their lines in their head as I desperately try and lay bare my troubles in a lengthy monologue.

 

My words? Meaningless. My actions? Meaningless. In the same way that scene partner would hold my gaze to say their lines following my catharsis, the men staring at Dr. Blasey-Ford was their idea of emotional reciprocity. She was acknowledged in the physical sense but I do not for one moment believe any of them were listening to her.

 

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two and their having fun at my expense”, she eloquently and confidently confirmed to the committee when asked of a memory she remembers most. I sensed that the 11 men were likely wondering where the hippocampus is located in the brain and what might its function do for it, her. If they were really listening they’d empathize: wow, this night was seared into her memory. Lost from their tightened faces and scrunched lips is the recognition of a woman's personal trauma.

 

When I went on news sites and social media today I was, like all of you, bombarded by the onslaught of opinion and outrage from today’s testimony. My insides burn at the idea that these men do not care about this information and thusly, do not care about not just this particular woman but any body’s life and body. Everyone is a writer, suddenly. Everyone is an activist, suddenly. Everyone is full of knowledge and have somehow in a mere matter of minutes and hours reached a conclusive ideology perfectly crystallized by today’s testimony. We see. We react. We post. We hashtag. We like. We react. We post. We hashtag. It goes on. It’s so fast. It’s fast. Am I reading? Am I feeling good about what I’m doing but what am I doing? Why is this about me? I'm angry. I'm angry. I'm angry.

 

Women are accessing inner anger, which we have been conditioned to bury from birth and are now publicly expressing displeasure with the patriarchy. All of this makes sense. Women being angry. Men being angry too. Men angry for women. Men angry for men. 

 

But I wonder if we all have it wrong. The country is so full of outrage I have to wonder who is doing any listening anymore? We are all living through a political hangover (as my brother likes to say). Though, here I am over here waiting for someone to hand me a Gatorade, you know? And it’s so not going to happen because everyone is so hungover that there’s no way to to help the other out.

 

How do we stop raging and start listening?

Women, in particular, exemplify a kind of public civility that only we could learn from being the more subordinate for so long. We remain this way, by the way. Look how outnumbered women were at the committee hearing today.

 

I watched Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford speak today with a softness to her voice. She sounded younger than her years but certainly sophisticated in her knowledge and courageous in her disclosing the story of her assault with him, Kavanaugh. I wanted to, as a fellow woman, stroke her back when she cried and help pin back her hair as she spoke to keep it from falling into her kind face flush from nerves. I watched her nervously inch to the microphone when Senator Grassley demanded she do something different to appease the room’s listeners. I watched her get worried. I worried for her too. This is how we are conditioned. In her behavior and her tone exists this feeling I know all too well: I am a burden, I am sorry. I will not be aggressive, I am sorry. Thank you for acknowledging me. Did I mention, I am sorry? Did I say thank you? Thank you. I'm so sorry. 

 

We hear from the men something totally different. To the alleged sexual assailant, Judge Brett Kavanaugh:  We are sorry for this burden, Judge. This is disgraceful, Judge. We’re sorry this will fracture your reputation, Judge.

 

It is so hard to feel like women cannot own rage. But the outrage isn’t working. It’s clouding. It’s exhausting. It’s not listening. This is not just what we do because we know we can do many things. What can we do to to promote change without promoting rage? I cannot begin to contextualize each individual committee member from today's hearing but what I can say is their responses, both verbal and non-verbal, felt deeply mystifying and unexplainable. No sympathy or remorse. It felt as if the whole nation today listened to something happen inside a completely different room.

It felt like as if she wasn't human. 

It felt as if those men today weren’t listening at all. 

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