Even though I live on the other side of the world I still pay quite a bit of attention to what’s going on in America and honestly it’s not very encouraging right now. One event, in particular, seems to have risen to the forefront of everyone’s Facebook feeds and news articles: the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
I’m thankful to have gone through three very distinct chapters of life before moving to Laos and as a result I have friends across the whole spectrum. I often have opposite views being posted on whatever is the current issue of the day. I like this because I get to see what multiple sides are saying. The death of Michael Brown is one such issue that has galvanized all sides of my friends. I’ve seen a lot of anger from all sides and the more I’ve read the more I’ve realized Laos has something to say about this.
Laos is completely different than America in almost every way. I had read tons of stuff about Laos before arriving but I stepped off that airplane having no real idea what was going through the mind of the average Lao person. Things happened I didn’t understand and no matter how much I tried I couldn’t make any sense of it. Two years later, I understand things better but it’s still not that much. Understanding something different than you doesn’t take overnight but that hasn’t stopped me from trying. In two years, the thing I’ve discovered to be most helpful in this goal of understanding Lao people is to simply listen to them. I can’t tell you how much of my time involves sitting down with Lao people, asking questions, and listening to their answers but that’s what it takes so I do it. I don’t always agree with what they say but as much as I like to think I know, I really don’t because my life experiences are so much different than the majority of Lao people. It’s a difficult process but I do it because I love Lao people and I want to understand them.
So what does this have to do with what is going on in Ferguson? In all the articles, responses, and posts I’ve seen lots of passion and anger but there’s one thing people don’t seem to be doing. Listening.
Let’s be real for a second. I’m a white male who grew up with a very privileged life. It doesn’t matter how many black friends I claim to have there is no way I can relate to what kind of life the average black male lives. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that my life is as different from that kind of life as someone’s life here in Laos. For example, I don’t understand what it feels like to be stereotyped because of the color of my skin. I don’t know what it feels like to have everything I do, including how I talk and how I dress, questioned because of my skin. I don’t understand these things and no matter how hard I try on my own I won’t ever be able to understand them. I can, however, listen to those who do know what it feels like. That’s what Laos has taught me. Go to the people who have experienced the things you haven’t. Listen to them and do it with an open heart and just maybe you’ll be able to understand their actions a little better.
Are we really doing that with the protestors in Ferguson?
A lot of people point to the violence that has come from the protestors but many of the protestors are saying they are angry because their voices haven’t been heard for far too long. Before you blame them for violent protest just think about how much blame lies with those who haven’t been listening. I don’t know what you believe about “life callings” but I know I have been called to love. I try to understand Lao people because I love them and I try to understand the people who are protesting about Michael Brown because I love them too. I challenge those who read this blog to do the same. Many people are too afraid to listen because they think it means you give up your own voice but that’s not the case. Everyone has the right to a voice and a response but listening first will help you respond in a more knowledgeable way.
I think we all want a more peaceful situation in Ferguson. There is a lot of anger and a lack of understanding. Laos has taught me that the best way to understand is to listen.