In the current charged atmosphere, I feel it is important that we all get LAED! LAED is an acronym for Listen—Acknowledge—Empathize—Determine. Whether our engagement level is in real social time or through social media, how we interact with each other has become more important than ever. The pendulum of political correctness is just as damaging too far left as it is to the extreme right. While we search for the balance, these four specific aspects can help us maintain a healthy respect for the perspective of other people and their experiences.
Recently, a black man posted a video of another black man being pulled over by the police for driving 65mph in a 70mph zone. While I acknowledge that this has happened to white people, it is a story all too common in the experience of people of color. Rather than acknowledging the man’s experience, a white woman posted her story of how her husband was pulled over by the police for crossing the traffic lines. Turns out he needed cataract surgery.
What the fuck?
How does crossing traffic lines, a clear violation of the law, equate with being pulled over for doing five miles under the speed limit? The poster clearly failed to listen to the message. She then failed to acknowledge the experience, which led to her inability to empathize with the situation, and caused her to poorly determine that her story was appropriate to share. She needs LAED.
A successful equestrian is being investigated for potential animal cruelty. He is suspected of using electrified spurs on his horses. The conversation on the post led to other acts of cruelty in the world of horse shows, such as tying horses heads up high over night, refusing to give water before classes, using electrical currents to punish bad behavior. A female poster declared that she had never seen these methods used; therefore, such methods could not exist.
By not listening, she clearly missed the message. You cannot determine what does or does not exist for another human being based on the very limited, very narrow scope of your own experiences. And worse, you have no right to deny that such an experience even exists just because you have not experienced it. This is how a culture of blame-the-victim has come into vogue.
In writing, a reader brings a suspension of belief to the story in order to be entertained by cyborg terminators, chivalrous dragons, and lovesick zombies. People need to bring a suspension of cultural perspective when encountering the experiences of people whose perspective might be very different from their own. This is not to say subvert or convert any belief systems, but simply to be open to the fact that your experiences are not the same. The theory of apples and oranges.
An excellent analogy is that history is a car accident. Where you were standing will effect your perspective on the incident. Input any historical event into that crash simulation and then try to see it from the perspective of ALL the people involved. If they all saw it the same way—your perspective may well be lacking.
Recently, a writer and friend lamented that they struggle with sharing their work with their parents who will not accept their preferred pronouns. I had a similar tale to tell to comfort them. Thankfully, my brain stomped the brakes! This was not the time for inadvertent one-up-man-ship. This was not the time to diminish their experience with one of my own ... so I got LAED.
I listened, understanding the experience from my limited purview as a straight, CIS woman. I acknowledged my friend’s plight with a bit of truthful humor about the short circuits that develop between members of a family unit. I empathized by offering comfort to my friend to support them in a moment of pain. And then, I determined, that my own tale of my mother’s acerbic criticism of my work was not appropriate. The tale could be told another time.
It was a powerful lesson for a prolific storyteller (translation: I talk too much) who has an eclectic library of anecdotes and no reservations about sharing.
Listening is a muscle, and like any other muscle it needs to be worked to enhance its strength. Acknowledgement comes with courage because often we are faced with looking at ourselves in someone else’s mirror and seeing our flaws.
Empathy comes with trust, trusting ourselves to be open enough, strong enough to carry the burden of another soul, if only for a moment, and determining what we will say because those words could mean the difference between salvation or damnation. Think of your favorite teacher. Now think of the one who left just as indelible a mark on your soul for the wrong reasons.
Determination is just another term for deduction. By taking away the tales we want to tell, we recognize that such stories may laminate over someone else’s experience, diminishing them. There is a proper time to share, but not necessarily in that moment. With proper determination, we will take away far more and be better for it by rising up to support a fellow human being in a time of distress.
Here endeth the lesson, my friends. Go get LAED.