By Raleigh Bowden
I’m increasingly intrigued by the value of listening to people who think differently than me and finding ways to have both of us feel heard. I was recently called to jury duty, and selected to my surprise, and found myself ensconced in the jury room with four men (all NRA members, the majority from Tonasket) and a “packing” second-grade female school teacher.
School shootings continue to occur, and the weekend before, people across America marched for gun control. So, in the hours we were “locked up” together, waiting as you do during a trial, I opened the conversation with the question: “So what do you guys think about gun control with all these school shootings?”
Just that simple question with no elaborating on my part. At first, there was that immediate response favoring no gun control, and the concern voiced that it would be a “slippery slope,” one gun law leading ultimately to more gun laws and possibly outlawing guns altogether. In addition, it might set a precedent for other rights being taken away. We actually then spent a lot of time talking about hunting as they showed the pictures on their phones of their recent hunting trips.
I listened, and their conversation evolved to the opinion that guns are not the problem, it is the shooter and his mental health issues that are the problem, and the loss of family values and how we “used to raise our kids with family values.” There was a long pause, and then I asked what they thought about our government cutting back on mental health resources and subsidies to the poor families who work two or three jobs and cannot be home to instill family values like the old days.
I listened and nodded and kept asking questions. I did not share much of my own views because they did not ask much. But I know they heard some of where I was coming from by the questions I asked. I felt like I was listened to as well. At the end of the day-long trial, I think the feeling in the room was that we had become friends of a sort, or at least we held respect for each other. I was filled with a sense of appreciation, that I could engage them on a sensitive topic and that they brought up some good points. They made me think a little differently.
When I think back to the rhetoric of the marches, what I heard was that it was all about gun control being the solution to school and other community violence. Upon deeper reflection I think we would all agree with my gun friends that it is not simple, and the underlying causes of gun violence in schools probably have as much to do with the shooter, whether they have mental health issues, a history of violence at home or bullying at school, or whatever has happened to them to lead to gun violence as a solution to their anger and other emotions.
I found myself thinking that what we need to solve gun violence in our national community might best be solved by all sides sitting down at the table and listening, validating each others’ experiences and views, and allowing a solution to emerge that might have the depth to actually be successful.
The other thing I have learned is it is the spontaneous, seemingly small opportunities that appear in the course of our daily travels that open up opportunities for listening. We never know what impact these conversations might have. I certainly will never know from the one I just described. I don’t even know their names anymore. Maybe building a safer, more-just world happens one person at a time.
Raleigh Bowden lives in Twisp.