"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, is its natural corollary: "We need to listen."
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 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 drawing attention to the issue in 2016 by sitting on the bench during the pregame national anthem.
Kaepernick's own mind appeared to be made up, but following a meeting with former Green Beret and ex-Seahawks player Nate Boyer, he did, in fact, shift to kneeling to be respectful of veterans.
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.
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.