The blessing and power of bearing witness is often undervalued. When someone is struggling, to notice, and say so, gives courage. When someone is sad, to notice, and say so, gives hope. When someone is angry, to notice, and say so, creates space for finding peace again. When someone is manipulating the truth, to notice and say so–as frightening as that may be–puts the manipulator in check and confirms the truth for the one being manipulated. Having one’s sense of the true manipulated is so devastating. We need others around us who can bear witness with us and for us about our sense of truth.
Witness happens when we choose to see and speak, somehow. The speaking may be with words, but it may also be with actions. The speaking of witness may be in a march somewhere for a cause we are witness to. It may be a touch or an embrace of one in order to say: I see you. I hear you. I understand. I stand with you.
The alternatives to bearing witness, it seems to me, are two: refusing to see, and ignorance. There is some degree to which I cannot be responsible for my ignorance. Cultural shaping and circumstances dictate that there are things I won’t know about. I don’t know what it means to be black in America. I don’t know what it means to be a woman in America. I don’t know what it means to be poor in America. But, I do know that I don’t know these things.
And that’s where what I choose to see and choose not to see becomes my responsibility. Because I know my own experience of being white, of being male, of being affluent (to name a few qualifiers), I can choose to see or not to see people who are not white, who are female, who are poor. With them I can bear witness in and doing so–despite my ignorance–begin to create what some have called Beloved Community.
What. Who. Do we see today? And of those we see, what do we say? The making of blessing.