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Commentary: Be Heard

Courtesy photo
Sue Scott

Do you ever have one of those memories that bubble up to the surface and you're not sure why? Well, this is one of those.

When I was in high school I loved Art Class, and one day the project I was working on really challenged me. When I came up with an idea, I wanted to share it with my teacher. So I got out of my seat and I walked up to his desk. Before I could even show him my sketch, he yelled at me and told me to go back and sit in my seat. I was startled and confused; I was shut down. I just wanted to share something that I cared about. I want to hear his thoughts.  So what I did was ripped up my sketch and told him he did not care about teaching art.  That was kind of dramatic.

I'm not sure why this memory has come to my mind these days. Or why destroying my artwork seemed like the appropriate response. I do know that I sought a connection with this teacher. Ripping up my work came from the frustration of not being heard.

In the last nine months, we have been asked to face many new realities, whether it’s COVID-related or grappling with social injustice or the hostility around the election. I see a lot of frustration around me. I don’t know about you, but I often feel helpless. What impact can I have to make a difference or be a part of the changes I believe need to happen?

This memory of being shut down in my art class has got me thinking that there is something powerful in letting others be heard. Just look for the frustration around you, those “tearing something up.” Those are the ones who might be seeking to be heard; those facing difficulties caused by the pandemic; those that are fearful of being infected; the ones that are frustrated at the slow pace of change and acknowledgment of social inequity. They all, I think, need to be heard.

When there is no space for other voices to be heard, especially those that are marginalized and not represented in our mainstream culture, we all lose. We learn from each other -especially those who are not like us -from another place and with different experiences. We are each other's teachers and we are each other’s students. I realize that more often than not, I shut others down by not give them space to be heard. It’s hard. I think we want to share our opinions. But we don’t realize that we’ve mistaken “offering an opinion” as “a conversation.” Part of letting others be heard is listening.

As the dramatic changes in our world continue to evolve, I am hitting the “reset” button.  I am up for making even small changes -which I do think is where all change starts. I’m trying in my conversations to ask a question and then listen. Something like, “What about this makes it so interesting to you?”  Or “Tell me more about your experience.” A good question, I’m finding, opens an opportunity to learn some really interesting things.

When I was asked to give this commentary, I was struggling over what to talk about because I thought, “What do I have to say?” There seem to be plenty of opinions out there. And I guess that's a way to end this. The truth is, I don't know what I have to say or share with you- beyond the fact that I want to hear from you and learn from you. I do know that what I can learn on my own is incomplete. I know that to be heard is the start of creating a deeper, more nuanced understanding with, for, and because of each other.

Sue Scott is Director of the Western Illinois Museum in Macomb.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.