Listening in the Senate Hearing
I had taken a spiritual hiatus from the media trail. Sometime over the summer I confessed to a friend that I checked CNN daily, and her face shocked me out of the reality I had acquiesced to, and I welcomed media celibacy. But as the holidays recede, within these days of integration, I watched the senate hearing intently, with an ear tuned in to the way everyone in the room listened. A few moments caught my attention:
Firstly, there were staggering differences between the listening styles of the men and women in that room. Dr. Ford, Senator Feinstein, and Rachel Mitchell, spoke and listened with a gentleness that was in stark contrast to Judge Kavanaugh, and the male senators who spoke in the later hours of the hearing. We are one of the first generations in history to overturn gender-roles that have existed since the days of hunter-gatherers. Think of how different the listening demanded of hunters, is from that of home-makers -- hunters listened for prey, for the kill, homemakers listened to children, to elders, to the concerns of community. Women and men have been trained to listen differently for generations; it’s been written into the fabric of our beings. In these days of fervent reassessment of justice, respect and equality for women, not only will women be given greater pedestals to speak from, it will be demanded of men that they learn how to listen anew.
When asked what she remembers most, Dr. Ford answered, “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the laugh — the uproarious laughter between the two.” How miraculous and monstrous, are the capacities of mind and memory, that a sound imprinted on the aural faculty countless years ago can linger eternally, a defiant trigger for trauma that is so difficult to heal, all the more so, in a culture that makes little room for healing.
In the final moments of a lengthy hearing, Senator Kamala Harris concluded the day with a simple question to Judge Kavanaugh, “Did you listen to Dr. Ford’s testimony?” “No,” he said, “I was going to, but I was preparing for my own.” We’re measuring our listening this year, against the demands of the 2nd century sage Hillel, who when debating in court, would argue in favor of his opponent, before arguing his own case. How could Kavanaugh deny what he hadn’t even been willing to listen to? Did he not consider that something she would say might jog his memory? What a terrible model of listening to present to the nation, as he prepares for high office.
Whether or not you believe Ford or Kavanaugh, an essential notion was absent from yesterday’s discussion. Sensitive subjects are most often avoided, because we’re so afraid of the vulnerability they necessitate. But that vulnerability is the site of real listening. No one asked for testimony on the nature of healing.
Do we not believe a person is capable of healing, of change, of repentance and growth? Should the wrongs he may have committed as a teenager prevent his nomination? If we are a community that believes in the possibility of healing then we must say “No.” If Judge Kavanaugh was willing to step forward, to speak and listen from a place of vulnerability and own up to the mistakes of youth, even just a little bit, it would go a long way toward healing the pain of his past sins, in himself and in others, be they large or small, and whether they include Dr. Ford or not. Vulnerability and listening are preconditions of healing. But that was not his choice, he chose denial and anger.
What does our society demand of those who sit on the supreme court? We want righteousness. And that doesn’t mean purity, perfection, unadulterated goodness. Righteousness is a measure of listening to all as equals -- men and women, Democrats, Republicans and Independents, blacks and whites, Jews, Buddhist, Muslims and Christians. Can you listen to every voice and hear within the shared humanity that far outweighs difference? Can you bring compassion, no matter what they bring?
Rabbi Zach Fredman