Is there any way to improve the tone of our national discourse, to alleviate the rancor that’s gripping our politics and society? Voters believe the answer is simple, listen first.
A recent poll of North Carolina voters by Listen First Project found that 57 percent believe that “if people with different viewpoints, listened to and considered the other side first” it would make a “major” or “huge impact” on our politics and society. Thirty-six percent of voters believe this simple commitment would make a “huge impact,” and only 6 percent believe it would have “no impact” on our culture. In the September NBC News/Wall Street Journal national poll, voters were asked what one message they would like to send to politicians with their vote this year. The top open-ended response was “bipartisanship, work together, compromise.”
It sounds so easy, and clearly the interest in positive change exists, but it can be a steep challenge for most of us, myself included. But we don’t have a choice. If we hope for a healthy, prosperous nation, we cannot continue to demagogue our neighbors because they see the world differently, suggesting that not only their opinions but they themselves are somehow less. That’s not who we aspire to be as an American people, as a “city on a hill” for the world to see.
Listen First Project has launched the Listen First, Vote Second campaign around this midterm election season. We have yard signs across the southeast mixed in with the ubiquitous red and blue candidate signs that we’re all used to seeing this time of year. The #ListenFirstVoteSecond message is spreading on social media as well. We’re promoting this message with the belief that the greatest societal change begins with the people, at the grassroots level. Our political leaders take cues from us.
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Every election season, and most every day in the modern political and technological climate, we’re reminded of the issues that divide us. And that’s OK. The United States is made better by passionate and vigorous debate on issues that shape our nation. We will never and should never all agree on everything, but that doesn't mean the status quo can’t change. We can move beyond slander and seek common ground, with a new respect and appreciation for the other side.
While politics, and especially election season, provides the starkest example of our failure to listen to one another, it’s far from the only arena in which we face this challenge. Our failure to listen is affecting our relationships and productivity at every level, from the kitchen table and classroom all the way to Congress and the United Nations.
We’re all culpable, and we’re all responsible for change. It starts with me. It starts with you. Let’s make a new commitment to fully listen to and consider another person’s views before sharing our own, prioritize respect and understanding in conversation and encourage others to do the same.
Contact Pearce Godwin, founder and president of Listen First Project (ListenFirstProject.org), at Pearce@ListenFirstProject.org.