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The Courage to Listen


Amidst the tumult of today's media and political landscapes, its easy to find reasons to despair or get angry. The lines are clearly drawn and you're either in or out. You're with me or against me. But when I take a minute to step back from the big picture and dig into the details, I believe small things to be hopeful about are present.

From where I sit, one of the largest chasms we have to cross in our country is the reflex to judge without understanding. The easy thing to do is label someone with a different point-of-view as uninformed or even stupid. But what has lead to them thinking that way? Put another way by Krista Tippett, "I can disagree with your opinion but I cannot disagree with your experience". I might not agree with what someone stands for but have I heard and reflected on why they stand for it? If I do not give you the time and space to make your case, I am failing you.

And when there is a topic we feel resolved on, sometimes it can be beneficial to hear it in a different way than we are used to. Which is why I was delighted to come across PBS airing a concert featuring Nas and the National Symphony Orchestra in D.C. Not only is PBS not a typical medium for hip hop but having him backed up by a symphony is altogether different. Placed on PBS in front of a symphony, who might take the time to listen that otherwise would not?

I once heard music writer Frannie Kelley say her mother asked her, "why do you like hip hop so much?" Frannie responded by providing her mom with Nas's "Illmatic" album and the song lyrics because she was having trouble taking the lyrics in fully. When her mother got back to her she said, "He did this after dropping out of high school? He's a genius!" In the special that PBS aired one of the national orchestra's staff said her son helped get her excited about the production and now she was listening to his music regularly. She went on to say his lyrics, "life's a bitch and then you die, that's why we get high 'cause you never know when you're gonna go", spoke to her because of how relatable it is. Taking the time to unpack that line like beyond drug use which people may get hung up on, its about the stresses of life and not knowing what our future holds. There are songs written in every genre about this. Its just Nas saying it his way.

I choose to see hope in where we are as a country through this fringe lens because this is a performance that would likely not have happened fifteen years ago, let alone be broadcast to a national audience.

Will we dare ourselves to see progress amid a noisy landscape of angst and frustration? Will we dare to hear, see or taste something we've already reached a conclusion about without having experienced it?

Go Forth Boldly


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