Learning to Listen All Over Again

It is an easy thing to preach to the choir.  They agree with you, affirm your hatred, anger, and even your ostracizing of the “fools” on the other side of the equation.  This is politics right: actually no.  And this has become the problem.  We no longer know what politics is or how to make political theory work in favor of the American public.  Welcome to the American political gridlock, session number 241 (or somewhere around there).

In the weeks post-election, my anger has boiled over 100 times.  My tears have flowed from my face more times than should be counted, and my reality has been shifted.  And I have no doubt that it is my call to stand up and voice my opinion, to march on the streets, to FIGHT BACK.  And I’m so sure in my head that the mid-terms will be a firestorm of transition, that the resistance party will win back the seats needed to reclaim power and that right now is the beginning of our finest hour.  But then I realize I’m not sure.  Because, well, because.

Donald Trump somehow was elected to the presidency because a lot of people felt like his message was something different.  Few of us reading this blog know these people, and that is the problem.  Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind: Why People Are Divided by Religion and Politics essentially tells us that the reason for this has everything to do with the tribes we have created.  We no longer hear each other’s different opinions, no longer engage even in healthy dialogue.  We instead hold bitterness and anger and we say that we can’t deal with those people on the other side.  And we all do it, liberal, conservative.  All of us.

An even better example of this comes from a memory from the 2009 inauguration.  While living in D.C., I had the distinct privilege of joining what was the largest gathering in person to even witness an inauguration (that’s right Donald).  It was remarkable, simply unreal.  And as I returned to my apartment in Northwest D.C., I turned on the television and listened to Tom Brokaw discussing how politics has changed.  In 2009, Brokaw was remarking how when he used to walk the halls of congress as a journalist and staffer, there was the same amount of fighting over issues as there is even today. But at the end of the day, everyone would flood out into the bars and restaurants in D.C. and engage in deep conversations and relationship building.  And he said, today, even the staffers don’t cross the political aisles to engage in this milieu.  Instead, everyone stays in their political circles and never crosses into bipartisanship, even for drinks.  This was even illustrated in the very well respected show The West Wing in a thread in season 2 during the year 2000.

If we are to get anywhere in the next election, if the progressive and inclusive voices of the world are to win out and a return to the America where people of all colors, ages, races, gender identities, and worldviews are to feel safe (or maybe get there for once), we are going to have to learn what it means to listen.  To hear the other in our midst, and not to plan to change their mind, at least by words.  But rather to get to know people, experience the shoes they are walking in, and take the time to know why they have chosen the person they have chosen for the presidency.  And if we begin that level of civility, making peace with those who disagree with our positions, we will begin to actually make America great again because we will have reclaimed the sacred respect of differences.  It does it no good to continue to isolate ourselves from the other in our midst, further widening the chasm between progressive and conservative.

I recognize this is easier said than done, that as a white male I hold extreme privilege that my identity may not be attacked and that I may be able to enter conversations with less fear of hostility than many others.  And I also know for sure that unless we engage those who are different than ourselves, we will continue to lose.  And we will lose big.  There are no less than nine senate seats that democrats currently hold that could all swing at the midterms.  To not only retain these seats while also turning others as well as turning enough house seats to make a tangible difference is an extremely difficult task.  And it begins here, at home, where we learn to listen to one another.

One might ask, is this really advocacy work?  Do I really have time for this kind of thing in the current political climate when the administration is releasing something new every 15 minutes that could harm another population.  As a matter of fact, yes.  Because now is a time for relationship building.  Because while there is so much else that to be done, it is still a time that we build up our relationships with the other around us as a way to demonstrate resistance.  If we can build up this resistance with people who voted for Trump alongside those of us who did not, then that is really a movement.  That is really a chance for a new start. That is what will actually great a movement that will overturn that has occurred.

Should we fail, should we continue to remain isolated from those who are at current on the other side of the aisle as us, we may wake up in two years in a similar is not far worse situation.  And should our collective wisdom continue this path, the millions that voted for Trump who appear to be unwavering in their support of him will vote once again for him in four years.  And if you think he can’t be reelected, if that is but a far fetched idea, remember that he won once.  And to unseat a sitting president who runs for a second term is extremely difficult.  Only George H. W. Bush and Jimmy Carter have experienced this in the last 60 years.

So let our advocacy work now grow.  Let us move from protests and demonstrations, from letter writing and phone calling, from sit ins and meetings with congressman, and let us next learn to have conversations with others in our midst.  Through this work we will build even great coalitions and movements.  And we’ll help to actually build back a civil society that has been lost through divisiveness and anger.  If we can learn to listen again, perhaps those we disagree with the most can as well.

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