Listening to One Another

Carolyn and I don’t have cable, but whenever we’re visiting family I make up for lost time. Most of all, I love turning on ESPN in the afternoon and watching “Pardon the Interruption.” Every weekday at 5:30 p.m. Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon go down the list discussing all of the day’s top sports stories. Recently, when I turned it on, Carolyn walked into the room and made her displeasure known. “Oh no,” she said. “I hate this show. Those guys are always yelling at each other.”

“No they’re not,” I said. “They’re just having a conversation!”

To be fair, their conversation can get loud and heated at times. Tony and Mike take opposing sides and argue their point, rarely ceding ground to one another. But they’re not vindictive. They don’t attack one another. Their aim is purely the outcome of the debate.

Still, I got to thinking about Carolyn’s comment, and started flipping through the cable news channels in prime time for comparison. PTI is by no means a sleepy and calm show. But when I looked at other examples of news talk on television today, I realized it’s actually somewhat tame by comparison. More and more today, it’s difficult to find examples of people having thoughtful conversations with one another. Too often our minds are already made up, our beliefs entrenched, and we are unwilling to give others a fair hearing.

A professor of mine used to talk about his grandfather telling him, “You’re so open-minded your brain is going to fall out.” Certainly, we must have conviction, must adhere to our beliefs and defend them when they are important and vital. But haven’t we taken this to the extreme? In our politics, with controversial social issues, even with something like the debate over the fate of our middle schools in Hampden and Wilbraham, our minds are already made up. Even when opportunity is presented for discussion or consideration of different view points, we tend to hear what we want, and tune out everything else.

What if we spent more time, in our country and communities, even in our families, listening to one another? What would it be like if instead of simply waiting for someone to finish so we can offer a rebuttal, that we listened and sought to understand where they where coming from? Sometimes with groups I’ve found helpful the practice of presenting one another’s point. After listening to someone with whom you disagree you then seek to articulate and explain what it is they are advocating. Such an exercise forces you to step outside yourself and to see the worth and substance of the beliefs of others.

I still enjoy watching “Pardon the Interruption” when I can. But I also have a renewed appreciation for thoughtful and empathetic dialogue. Wouldn’t our communities, large and small, be a better place if we truly listened to one another? Why not give it a try?

Published in May 2017 in The Wilbraham-Hampden Times.

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