Here’s what I learned from the Women’s March:

1. Everyone has a story to tell.

2. We should listen.

I went to the women’s march in little ol’ Topeka, KS, last Saturday, along with over 3,000 men, women and children. We were a small portion of the total Women’s March attendees worldwide, but we were there. As I scanned the signs in the crowd I got a sense of each person’s motivation for attending. Some people were clearly angry. Some were more sad. Some were there to support a specific cause or people group. And surely some were all three. I was conflicted about going, not because I was against the march, but because I didn’t think this type of event fit me. I am hyper conscious about keeping my word – letting my yes be yes and my no be no. In the things I promise and the things I merely say. And a lot is said by one’s actions. By showing up, or not.

In going to the march, was I supporting everything this crowd was supporting? I knew I wasn’t, so was going a lie? Was it a falsehood to be a body in that place on that day? Those were questions I asked myself before I decided to hitch a ride with my friend, her daughter, and her mother. I had no sign. I had no specific agenda. I went as an observer, a witness, a supporter of equal rights in general.

I’m going to show my hand here: I am pro-life in that I wish abortion wasn’t a thing at all. I am pro-choice in that I think the answer to the problem is much more complicated than making laws. I am conflicted about legislating morality, on either side of the aisle. Because both sides are doing it. Because we all have a set of values from which we move in the world. From which our political stances arise. The Republicans are not the only ones with a moral standard. The Democrats are not the only ones with compassion for the marginalized. Trying to make our society work for both types of people (and for those who don’t fit in either camp) is a complicated task, necessitating compromise. I sit in between the parties as an independent, and marches don’t always speak for those of us on the fence. “Yes, but…” was my most common internal response to the speeches I heard. Or “Yes, and…”

The very best sign I have seen from any march was made by a friend of mine. She was at the same event as me, though I didn’t see here there – only caught a photo of her sign on social media that evening.

It said simply:

I Hear You.

I See You.

I asked her later about the meaning of her sign, and she said it was up for interpretation. My takeaway was that it perfectly summed up why I went to the march – what it was all about it my view – and the attitude which if everyone adopted, no matter his or her political views, would solve so many of our problems. I hear you. I see you.

When my husband and I have an argument, what it almost always comes down to is one or both of us feeling we haven’t been heard. That one or both of our points of view has been passed over as unimportant or wrong. And the best way to diffuse a disagreement is for us to communicate that we’ve taken in the other’s words and considered them. That what was said wasn’t worthless or silly. Eye contact is key. Body language that communicates empathy instead of disgust.

For me, going to the march was saying with my presence, “I hear and see you” to all the people who feel left out. I, myself, don’t feel that way. I have had it pretty easy as a white, straight, middle class girl/woman in America. I am not particularly angry for me. But as another sign said “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it is not a problem for you personally.” That’s where listening comes in.

The whole idea of a march is to be heard. To be a squeaky wheel for a people or a cause. The problem right now is that so many groups of people were belittled during the campaign that the squeaky wheels are all over the road. The list of speakers at Saturday’s event was long, because numerous groups were being represented. So many people felt blatantly attacked by the man who is now the President that the anger and fear is widespread. And to just say “hush” to all those people is both unkind and foolish. Just as preaching to the choir does little to help further a cause, shushing the other side does a lot to embolden it.

This goes both ways. The conservatives need to hear what the liberals are saying/the liberals need to hear what the conservatives are saying. And both sides should say things in a positive way – not just because it’s kind, but because it’s smart. I doubt a single conservative was moved to a new understanding by the sign “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Translation = Bitches Be Crazy!” Nor would a left-leaning person be swayed by the Facebook post on the Women’s March page that read “You guys are a joke.”

As soon as one side won’t listen it feels foolish to listen in return. It’s hard to answer disrespect, condescension, and outright hate with respect and love. Our nature cries “Hey now! Get off my back!” But it is possible. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t move from a place of hate. He moved from anger and frustration, but not from a desire to see harm done to anyone else. He moved from an understanding that God made everyone, and therefore everyone had value.

Even if someone doesn’t believe that basic tenet of human decency, we should ask why. And then we should listen to the answer. Even if the answer makes our skin crawl. Because until we know why, we can’t address the core issue; we can only address the symptoms. Assumptions are no good here. They are the enemy. Not the other political party. Not those who marched or those who didn’t.

If someone is pro-choice, we should ask why. I have friends whose bodies were assaulted in the past, so attempts to legislate their bodies feels violating. I have relatives who likely don’t know a single Muslim person, so they fear what they don’t understand, as we all tend to do. I have friends who came to America, illegally, from Mexico (and Guatemala, and El Salvador) because they or their parents wanted to give their children a chance to escape poverty, or worse. I have friends who are rich, friends who are poor, some who have been both in one lifetime. And I care what each of them has to say. Empathy does not have to mean agreement. It merely says…

I hear you. I see you.