A Lesson in Listening

By Harrison Yu

Reaching across the aisle.  It’s a phrase we’ve heard repeated by politicians and the media, regardless what the topic is.  But how often do we actually listen when trying to make compromises on legislation or even on political opinions?  This was the topic of Julie Winokur‘s film, “Bring It to the Table.”  We need to be willing to open our ears before opening our mouths.  We need to stop making assumptions about what the other side has to say before they say it.

Naturally, this is easier said than done.  We all like to believe our opinion is fact and that our political (as well as religious) beliefs hold true and should be the laws of the nation.

Winokur started with her own struggles of trying to be open-minded.  She discovered that she was close-minded when her own son challenged her on shutting out the ideas of those who did not agree with her politics.  After touring around the U.S., she learned that everyone brings their own bias to the table, but, and here’s the critical point, we must listen to what others have to say, even if we believe it to be wrong.

My thoughts take me back a couple of months to the debates when Hillary and Trump went head-to-head.  After quite a bit of back-and-forth sparring, Trump leans over the microphone and simply says, “Wrong!”  I have witnessed, and it was pointed out in Winokur’s post-film lecture, that liberals also shut out conservatives who try to make political statements in college classrooms.  Both the left and the right have increasingly been accused of being intolerant.

So, what can we do?  Julie Winokur emphasized that learning about the people making the statements can help us rationalize their political opinions.  We need to ask why.  Why do you hold a strong opinion on certain political topics?  What is your background that led you to this belief?  On what topics have you changed your political opinion and why?  Why do you differ from the political party, so that I don’t place you in a narrow category?  Winokur says, “You just don’t know what kind of conversation you’re going to have when someone sits at the table.”  So, treat each others as humans with individual experiences and maybe we can treat each other with respect in order to reach bipartisanship.

Post Script:

After discussing with my peers some other techniques for discussing politics some methods could be added beyond understanding the other person’s background.  First, it is okay to disagree.  You will never convince everyone to understand your point of view, but it is important to understand that you will run into strong disagreements along the way.  You need to be okay with this in order to respect the other person as an individual.  Second, there are almost always points of common ground.  These can be emphasized as ways to connect to the other.  Finally, it is imperative to actively listen instead of listening to respond.  Even if you need to take a break from the conversation in order to reflect on their point of view, that is better than trying to make your own point right away.  Listen in order to understand so that we might grow as a country.

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One thought on “A Lesson in Listening

  1. Pingback: A Course on Discourse | Drake in D.C.

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