What I Learned Listening

Today I had lunch with a black colleague with whom I had done some educational consulting work earlier in the year. The company she worked for had recently let go of a fellow black colleague who expressed anger over racism in a small group. My friend was discouraged by how her colleague had been treated.

Although I felt helpless, I chose to listen alertly as she told me her story. She seemed to me to be grieving. Her colleague, a young black female, was pushed out of the organization based on the testimony of a white male boss who stated that the young woman had behaved completely out-of-line. My friend acknowledged that the young woman had indeed expressed anger, but the boss didn’t seem to have taken into consideration that this young woman’s experience needed to be affirmed and not denied.

My friend seemed to me, to be resigned to the situation and went on to explain that she was dropping to part-time position with her company. I wondered why she didn’t want to fight back or at least speak up. As a mature veteran in our profession, she had gained more credibility than the young woman carried, and I couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t use her status to be an advocate for change. I thought to myself that if I were in her shoes, I would not have hesitated to express my frustration. I wondered if it was because she is older and tired and black. I wondered if there was a way I could stick up for her and be an ally.

Then she told me why she was dropping back to part-time work, to do missionary work for her church. She told me that the way her young colleague had been treated was the company’s problem, not hers. God would take care of the problem in His time, she said. She trusted that fact. I asked her if that was why she wasn’t outwardly objecting to what was happening in the company. She said yes and that being a peace-maker is one of the creeds of her church. She felt it was important to serve in a place where she knew she could be effective and have influence rather fight an organization which was not ready to grow.

By her wisdom, I found myself humbled. I realized that she knows best about the organization in which she works. She didn’t need me to rescue her. She didn’t need me to fix her or the situation. I saw that my majority cultural tendency to save and fix were not ultimately helpful. In fact, my first inclination to deeply listen and affirm her experience was, in fact, what I really needed to do.  She knew what she was doing all along. It wasn’t until I got past my assumptions that I discovered her wisdom in following her heart and her God. This was yet another reminder that not fixing, but listening and learning, is what I need to do.