Mitch Carnell: Listening Is Hard Work
“To be heard is to be healed,” according to the Rev. Susan Sparks. A great many of our problems and national wounds could be healed, if we would listen to one another.
No one wins nor do we make progress when we shout at each other or turn a deaf ear to a proposal without considering its possible merits. This is no easy solution. Listening is hard work even under the best of circumstances. One must make a conscious effort to actively listen and not interrupt.
Interrupting is an act of war. It shouts that what I have to say is more important than what you have to say. We may feel that way, but if progress is to be made we must be willing to listen. That does not giving the other person permission to run on forever. We are talking about give and take in a civil conversation. Bishop Sally Dyck of the United Methodist Church has suggested Holy Conferencing. The idea is that the person holding a plastic dove has permission to talk without interruption. The dove is then passed to someone on the opposite side of the issue.
Calling each other names or pinning labels on each other will make the situation worse. A sure way to block real communication is to tell me that the problem is my fault. That may be true, but it will not move the conservation forward. Instead try, “Here is a way that could help us solve our impasse.”
If I treat you with respect and you treat me with respect, we are well on our way to creating an environment in which it is possible to make progress. I am not suggesting that it is necessary for any of us to give up our convictions or principles. I am suggesting that we sincerely take the time to listen to each other.
There are so many issues on which we disagree, but there are so many more issues on which we agree or have some levels of agreement. Start with the basics. I love this country and I know that you do as well. I am in favor of national health insurance for all of our citizens. Help me understand why you are not. I favor finding a way to citizenship for the so called Dreamers. Tell me why you are not. At this point you are tempted to call me a liberal, but that would not move us forward nor would it solve our problem.
Perhaps I should rephrase my statement. How could we improve accessibility to health care for all Americans? Are there some steps we could take that would lead to citizenship for the so-called Dreamers?
I have dinner every week with a group that I have been eating with for at least 35 years. We celebrate birthdays and holidays. We have attended weddings and funerals in each other’s family. All of the others in the group are members of a different political party from me and yet we have found a way to maintain our friendships. It has not always been easy, but we are dedicated to one another.
Honest conversation is rare because it is so difficult. It requires effort and a willingness to engage. It is far easier to ignore you, discount you or call you names. That requires no thought at all, but I am the loser. Our country, our civic organization or our church is the loser. As usual the Scriptures say it best: “Come now, let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV)
Mitch Carnell is a member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, SC. He is the founder of Say Something Nice Day and Say Something Nice Sunday on the first Sunday in June. He blogs at www.mitchcarnell.com.