One of the most important qualities of a good leader is the ability to listen.
It’s very easy to jump on a bandwagon and it’s easy to jump to conclusions. It takes true courage to hear another person’s point of view, admit we were wrong, shift our beliefs and move forward.
To be honest, my first reaction to National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell issuing a statement regarding his changed sentiments toward the Black Lives Matter movement was quite cynical.
Only four years ago, Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during the playing of the American national anthem to draw attention to the issue of police brutality toward blacks. This resulted in Kaepernick essentially being ostracized by Goodell’s league.
Now you say that you support his cause, Mr. Goodell? And you expect us to take you seriously?
The same can be said for Drew Brees, the star quarterback for the New Orleans Saints. Brees had always objected to peaceful protest by other players, saying that it disrespected the American flag. He even made comments opposing their actions after the death of George Floyd.
Brees then listened to his black teammates and has since apologized for his statements. After receiving strong criticism for this in Tweets from U.S. President Donald Trump, Brees replied, “I realize this is not an issue about the American flag. It never has been.”
Perhaps prominent people like Goodell and Brees aren’t just trying to look good for the media. Maybe we’re finally able to cut through the noise and rhetoric.
This is a moment like none other I’ve ever experienced. It appears that the truth is finally coming clear.
As a teacher, I relate this to seeing a concept become understandable to a student. I can vary the way I teach trigonometry to meet the learning needs of my students.
I can draw diagrams, make models or sing loud, obnoxious songs. Then a student says, “I got it! SOH, CAH, TOA!” It’s a moment of enlightenment and suddenly one can begin moving forward.
Until now, we’ve used the wrong formula to solve our problems. We’ve been trying to do trigonometry without understanding the characteristics of a triangle. We’ve been trying to solve social problems by chasing a racist narrative.
When certain groups have higher levels of incarceration, unemployment and poverty, along with lower levels of education and life expectancy, you don’t improve the situation by cutting educational and social programs, putting more people in jail and painting a racist narrative in the media.
But that’s what we’ve done for decades, even centuries.
The great American philosopher Cornel West points out that we always have a choice between chaos and community. Until now, we’ve chosen chaos.
The solution is community. We’re all in this together – we’re not our nationalities, ethnicities or genders, we’re a global community.
It has been so encouraging to hear people finally say, “Black lives matter.” We don’t only look at our American neighbours when we say this, we recognize that all over the world, people of colour have been unjustly treated for far too long.
It has been so refreshing to see symbols of oppression, including statues of men who were responsible for some of the most horrendous crimes against humanity in history – like King Leopold II of Belgium – finally removed from places of honour.
I’d like to believe the world has really listened and has come to a moment of enlightenment. The proof will be shown as we move forward.
Will we learn to listen to one another and walk together in community or will we continue our blind pursuit of chaos?
This is the choice each of us must make.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.