I am a fan of Stephen Colbert. I am even more of a fan after watching his interview with DeRay McKesson, a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement and the new Campaign Zero, this past Monday on The Late Show. Colbert introduced himself to McKesson as possibly “the whitest person you’ve ever met.” Then, after a brief discussion of white privilege, Colbert offered to switch seats with McKesson, putting his guest in the role of host.
Throughout this interview and with this simple gesture of switching seats, Stephen Colbert was practicing what I would call “holy listening.” Holy listening is honoring another by giving him or her our full attention. It is a practice of recognizing the sacred in others, as well as the dynamics of power and privilege at play between human beings. I remember reading about how difficult it is for those who are not in a position of power to find a way to be heard. Hearing these minority voices really depends on the listener coming to the conversation free of his or her own agenda. It also depends upon the listener being open to the validity of the other person’s experience. In other words, holy listening is difficult–especially since we are not trained to listen well. We have been trained to be distracted. We have been trained to be loud, assertive, and confident. We have been trained to get our point across. Rarely are we trained in the art of listening. But we sure could use more people practicing this fine art. Stephen Colbert modeled a great way to begin. Switch seats. Stop talking. Honor the person sitting across from you enough to be fully present with him–especially if that person’s human experience is different than your own.