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updated: 9/28/2017 10:02 AM

Slusher: Kneeling, patriotism, talking and the need to listen

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"We need to talk."

It's one of the most dreaded phrases in the English language. But when said, it's usually true. Just as true and just as dreaded, though perhaps not as familiar, is its natural corollary: "We need to listen."

A newspaper or social media forum can easily -- perhaps too easily -- facilitate the talking. We have to work harder to promote the listening. And we often do. No controversy could be more representative of the challenge than the present cacophony involving athletes, protests, patriotism, police-community relations and national politics.

Those are the points at issue, right? Though one could easily throw another truckload of difficult topics into the arena, including employer-employee relations, presidential propriety, justice, crime, celebrity influence, name calling, swearing in public, respect for the flag, respect for the military, respect for the police, respect for free speech, and who knows how many more? Enough, surely, to so obscure the conversation that one must strain to remember that it started with a desire to call attention to a stream of killings of black people by police in cities across the United States.

That is, by the way a legitimate topic of discussion, whatever your politics. When so many people are being killed, it has to attract our notice. Maybe it's the suspects' own fault. Maybe it's the fault of the justice system. Maybe it's the occasional rogue cop. Maybe it's poor relationships between police and their communities. Whatever it is, this much is clear: we need to talk.

And we need to listen.

It's hard to know for sure whether that observation is what San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was going for when he began in 2016 drawing attention to the issue by sitting on the bench during the pre-game national anthem. Kaepernick's own mind appeared to be made up, But that didn't mean he's not open to a reasonable conversation. Following a meeting with former Green Beret and ex-Seahawks player Nate Boyer, he did, in fact, shift to kneeling to be more respectful. Now the conversation has morphed into a nebulous explosion of outrage. No one seems to be talking about the original topic, but everyone seems to have something to say. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. We always encourage it. We hope you'll express yourself in our letters to the editor, in comments at the end of stories online, at our editorial board's Voice of the Suburbs Facebook page, at town meetings, in letters to government officials and in whatever other forum appeals to you.

But as you do so, keep this in mind: Every voice in the conversation has a point to be made. It is not wrong in America to demonstrate peacefully. It is not wrong in America to want respect for national institutions and symbols. Every side on every one of the myriad tentacles sprouting from this growing monstrosity of a debate has a germ of truth worth considering. How do we get to the whole truth? Yes, we need to talk. But we'll never get there if we aren't just as ready to listen.

Jim Slusher, jslusher@dailyherald.com, is a deputy managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jim.slusher1 and on Twitter at @JimSlusher.

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