The motivational speaker told an audience of agents that his personal experience of loss — his mother was killed in the 2015 Charleston church shooting — shaped his views on empathy and understanding.

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Before he stepped out onto the stage in Las Vegas, Chris Singleton received a reminder on his phone of the unspeakable loss that had sent him down the path he’s on today.

Singleton, a motivational speaker and former minor league baseball player once drafted by the Chicago Cubs, had just learned that his family and others had reached a settlement with the federal government in the aftermath of one of the most heartbreaking mass shootings in U.S. history.

Singleton was already set to deliver a message to the crowd of real estate agents Thursday at Inman Connect, a message stressing the importance of empathizing with and serving people, even ones they disagree with on hot-button issues.

“The sad thing is, we see people’s stance before their story, and we automatically write them off — our clients, even,” Singleton said at the industry event.

Singleton’s story is one of excruciating loss. He can still remember the call he missed from his mother’s phone number in the summer of 2015. She had been at a Bible study at her church in Charleston, South Carolina, when a gunman opened fire, killing her and eight others.

When he called the number back, Singleton learned the devastating news.

The gunman was an avowed white supremacist who had expressed hateful views online against African Americans. The next year, he was convicted on a myriad of hate crime and murder charges for the killings.

This event shaped Singleton’s beliefs on related public policy issues — beliefs that he knows many Americans disagree with.

“My stance is that I don’t like guns,” Singleton said. “You see, there’s empathy when you understand my story before [you hear] my opinion.”

Likewise, Singleton said he has found that he can empathize with others who disagree with him on the very same public policy issue.

Singleton recalled a man who loves hunting once approached him and told him the story of how he used to go on hunting trips with his grandfather. The man could still recall the nerves he felt on the hunt, and the reassuring presence his grandfather brought. 

At the time this man spoke with Singleton, he said he still went hunting on a regular basis. But his grandfather was no longer there to enjoy that time with him. The hobby is a meaningful connection to those memories, the man told Singleton.

“I can understand, because I heard his story before his opinion,” Singleton said.

To this day, Singleton said, he wonders whether the gunman who killed his mother could have been radicalized if he had actually engaged with the stories and experiences of people he had grown to fear and hate.

Singleton encouraged the audience of real estate agents to try to understand those with different backgrounds, and ask how they could better serve them. 

“I’m going to celebrate our differences,” Singleton said. “I’m not going to pretend I don’t see them.”

Email Daniel Houston

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