In the last year of her life when I would frequently visit her, my dear mother often reminded me of the difference between “Come see me” and “Come see about me.” They sound like they mean the same thing, but they don’t.
If I come see you, that means I pop in for a short while, listen to your problems, perhaps pray with you, and leave. If, on the other hand, I come see about you, that means I came to stay and pray as long as needed. It means I’m willing to do whatever I can to help solve some of your problems, and stay as long as I possibly could.
Mom’s reminder was in my head when I wrote last week’s article about our need for meaningful conversation in our private and public life. At that writing, I did not have the space to include two other problems that get in the way of conversation, but I think they are important enough to discuss today.
The first has to do with personal habits of thought, and the second concerns deeply imbedded belief systems — the larger culture in which we exist. Both, however, create a kind of internal “noise” that interferes with, or altogether inhibits, our ability to talk openly and honestly with one another.
Our habits of thought are tied to personal values and behaviors. In the worst cases, the thief thinks everyone else is a thief. The liar thinks everyone is a liar. The con man thinks people are always trying to con him.
Although there are surely more positive examples of this sort of thing, the point is that while someone else is talking to them, they are already figuring out what they’re going to say in response. In other words, our personal values influence the way we receive and respond to information, whether positive or negative.
Personal values, or habits of thought, are a kind of internal sifter. We let through only those chunks of information or ideas that are consistent with our habits of thought. Any idea or information — no matter how potentially valuable, can’t pass through. Put another way, we are hearing, but not listening.
Now, hearing and listening are not the same thing, like “Come see me” and “Come see about me.” You hear with your ears. You listen with your heart. You listen because you may learn something new, something that may change the way you think and act. By contrast, you hear only what you want to hear, with no requirement to learn anything whatsoever.
The larger issue, belief systems, is more encompassing than personal values. It’s the way we see the world. It’s all that we do as individuals, groups, and as communities. To the point, belief systems touch on just about everything — race, ethnicity, religion, politics, government, work, recreation, child-rearing, and the challenges associated with these and other cultural realities.
As we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this week,
I’ll use his example of what I’m suggesting here. All Dr. King ever talked about was peace, social justice, kindness, service to others, and love for our fellow Man. From all I can judge, he meant what he said. His reward? Assassination. Did James Earl Ray not listen?
But there is something down deeper. Although he surely had his enemies, Dr. King’s most difficult days began when he publicly, vehemently opposed the Vietnam War. His closest civil rights associates strongly advised him against it. His white liberal base of financial and moral support splintered. The FBI stepped up its surreptitious campaign to destroy him. Why?
Well, the answer to that may offend some, but I believe it to be valid. In the belief system of 1960s America (perhaps up until now as well) a black man was supposed to stay in his lane. It was all right for him to challenge social injustice in America, but not to step onto the international stage with his opinions. Our history is replete with similar examples of how this belief system, this racial stereotyping, has destroyed many giants of black leadership.
Dr. King’s “problem” is that he said what he meant, and acted accordingly. “Injustice anywhere” he said, “is a threat to justice everywhere.” He opened the conversation and followed through with right action. He came to see about you and me. And he stayed as long as he could.
Have a nice day.
Anderson resident Primus Mootry is a retired school teacher. His column appears Wednesdays in The Herald Bulletin.