We Need to Listen

I haven’t listened to talk radio for a long time. In college, I used to listen a lot. Worse, I used to buy into it.

But I figured out something that may have saved me: that stuff is toxic. People say those shows perpetuate hate and intolerance. While I’m not actually convinced that is true, they definitely cause an unwillingness to listen to opinions that contradict talking points that are beat to death on-air.

With that said, I did something dangerous yesterday. I tuned in. Perhaps out of a sheer curiosity to hear how grating it would be. And I wasn’t disappointed. Things hadn’t changed.

But I did hear something that caught my attention. One of the hosts I used to listen to, Glenn Beck, didn’t sound quite like he did ten years ago. He wasn’t spewing the same talking points. He wasn’t even talking ultra-conservative ideas. Check out an example of what I heard here:

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How about that? That’s something we can agree on, isn’t it? Because everything that’s happened – not just in the last two days, but in the last DECADE or more – is a direct result of us not listening to each other. We shout at each other now. “Tell me your opinion so I can tell mine back to you, only louder!” Rinse, wash, repeat.

What would happen if you listened, actually listened, to someone you don’t think you agreed with – not just listened to what they believe, but why they believe it? What if they returned the favor for you? We would at least come to an understanding. We might even be able to find common ground. I’m not naive enough to believe it will happen on every issue, but it could happen on some. And, hell, that’s a good enough start.

A lot of people were afraid after President Obama’s election in 2008 that his politics would be the end of America. It wasn’t. But people who said that were laughed at. A lot of people are similarly afraid that Trump’s election on Tuesday means the same thing. They’re being laughed at, too. We haven’t gotten any better. We need to get better.

It’s possible. All it takes is an open mind and an open heart. We live in a country where we believe great things are possible; we need to believe that more people can do that. Some people are already trying. More people need to do the same thing. I want to try to be one of those people, too.

There’s an interesting term in that article I just linked to: echo chamber. What’s that? Imagine surrounding yourself with people saying the same things you are saying. Eventually, you just repeat each other. It’s like an echo, and all you ever hear are the same opinions you have. Get out of your echo chambers. Talk to people. Don’t try to engage in debates, don’t try to refute other ideas. Just listen.

Listen. We live in a country where marching and protests are a freedom we can all exercise. That’s awesome. I would encourage everyone to engage in those activities for a good cause. But let me pose a hypothetical: what do we think would have happened if that time and energy was spent bridging this massive gap that is dividing our country? What if all of us got out of our echo chambers, took a break from marching or watching whichever news station’s bias you prefer, and talked to each other?

I saw CNN’s coverage of President Obama and President-elect Trump doing that today. I know there’s an element of showmanship there. I’ve watched House of Cards. But you know what? That still gave me hope. I can’t imagine those two have anything less than disdain for each other, but the example of them talking to each other is a good one. We had the same thing in 2008. I think we squandered that example. Let’s try to use it this time.

In four years, this country can be a radically different place. And I wholeheartedly believe it won’t be because of one man. It’s going to be a result of what we do together. Do we continue shouting at each other, never trying to really understand one another? Or do we try to figure out a way forward, together, incorporating everyone?

That choice has always been ours. It’s not Trump’s. It wouldn’t have been Clinton’s. It’s ours. A divided country in four years won’t be anyone’s fault but our own.

I’m ready for that to happen. If you are, too, let’s talk.

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