Perhaps if we stop yelling at each other and start listening, we have a chance.
A new study came out from the Pew Research Center about the growing divide between Democrats and Republicans. One of the more worrisome statistics is 64 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of Republicans said they have “just a few” or “none” close friends who are from the other major party.
The none figure is particularly staggering, with 21 percent of Democrats saying they had no friends who are Republicans, and 14 percent of Republicans have no friends who are Democrats.
No wonder we’re devolving into a nation of people who yell at each other, someone mistaking the loudest voice or the last one to speak as the winner.
Our former managing editor at the newspaper, Diane Pacetti, died earlier this week. She and I held vastly different political views about the role of government vs. the role of the individual. Still, we found common ground. We realized most of our core values were the same, especially where it came to the role of the free press in society.
We built a cordial relationship around that. It’s not to say tempers didn’t flare once in a while. After all, we were both still human and strong-willed, intelligent people. But we tried to show enough respect for the other person’s position to hear them out. I will really miss our ideological debates.
This kind of dialogue is nearly impossible nowadays for many people. When it comes to our politics, most people aren’t having a two-way dialogue; they’re waiting for their turn to speak.
We really need to return to reflective listening, a technique mastered in Carl Rogers’ “client-centered therapy.” It’s an opportunity to open up the dialogue by listening carefully to the other person and repeating back to them what you heard with which you agree. Then you can build off that to explain the points where you differ.
If you look at that Pew study, you can see there’s some room for us to find common ground. The gap between Democrats’ and Republicans’ views on fundamental policies, including environmental protection, government, immigration, national security and race, are larger than they’ve ever been before in its study. Those differences are much bigger by ideology than by education, gender, race or religion.
Can it work, to actually try to listen to people with different points of view? I’d recommend listening to Theo E.J. Wilson’s TED talk, “A black man goes undercover in the alt-right.” He spent time learning about the “haters” online and learned they had some things in common. He developed empathy for them.
“The point is that to get to this point of understanding, you have to let go of that fear and embrace your curiosity, and sadly, too many people will not take that journey to see the world from the other side,” he said. “And, I mean, let’s be honest, that doesn’t just go for progressives, but also to the right wing and conservatives.”
Before we jump to conclusions, we need to politely hear out those who disagree with us, even if it angers us. It’s our best chance to move us forward as a society, even if our visions of what forward looks like might diverge.