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The importance of active listening, or how to make civil discourse more civil

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In the valley of civil discourse, there rings an echo of truth which reminds us that in order to get far with our fellow human beings we must listen to one another.  The whole point of civil discourse is having a free exchange of ideas between two or more persons.  Guess what?  In order for those ideas to be checked for the truth or falsehoods, the ideas have to actually be heard and considered.  That means listening to the person that you are in a conversation with, whether it is civil or heated.

It appears that learning what it is to have a healthy debate would benefit many people starting in grade school.  There is an article on The Federalist web site, which shows an angry confrontation by some Yale University students with a professor.  Apparently, the passion and anger by the students come from their disappointment with the way another professor and the university’s administration had handled racial issues stemming from the use of some Halloween costumes over a year ago.  The article goes into it more in depth than I am.  But if you take the time to check out the article and listen to the videos, you will see that there is a complete lack of listening taking place.

This article made me realize that too many people do not understand the purpose of conversing with another person who sees things completely opposite of the way that you see it.  It saddens me that at many of the rallies that have been held for Donald Trump have resulted in violent interactions between those who support and those who are against him.  Moreover, people will blatantly attack one another based off of their opinion of Mr. Trump without him even being in the vicinity of the clashes. 

Recently, I saw something posted on Twitter about a 69-year-old woman being punched in the face by other person because of her stance on some Trump ideology.  All that I could think to myself is, what would cause you to hit an elderly person in the face?  So what, this elderly lady said something that you do not like? You could have easily killed the situation with kindness.  Even when the other person is not being loving with the words, you and I can still show them another way of handling our disagreement. 

People typically do not like to talk about politics or religion because those particular topics tend to bring out the worst in people when they disagree.  I (and I imagine many others), on the other hand, couldn’t care less if you do not stand with me on every issue but I enjoy dialoguing with others about the issues that face our country and our community.  Also, you never know what may happen when you speak in a kind manner to someone with an opposing worldview. You may win them over with your logic and your charm. (It really never hurts to have some charm these days.)

Another thing about listening is that it is important to be active in giving your attention to the speaker.  It really helps the person to whom you are listening feel like you care about what they have to say when they are speaking.  So you can do things like nod your head when they are speaking. Be genuine; they will be able to tell when you are really taking in the words that are coming out of their mouth or not. 

Another thing you may try is to repeat back what you hear before you give your opinion.  Sometimes people will be so ready to pounce on the speaker when the speaker says something that they don’t like that they will totally bypass other statements to hone in on one particular issue that has nothing to do with the totality of the message.  I cannot tell you how many times you can see this during presidential debates.  It is unhealthy and it gets you nowhere with the person speaking when you take something that they say out of context or misrepresent all that they have said. 

The next time that you are in a conversation with a person and you find the two of you disagreeing on a subject, let them speak and when they have given you the conclusion, repeat back exactly what you heard so they can correct you if you went wrong somewhere in what you heard.  I will bet you that they will really appreciate you trying to actually understand what they were thinking as opposed to giving your own misguided interpretation of what was said.

You know what else is interesting about practicing civil discourse?  Besides the fact that you are being civil and actually respecting another human being, it works in different settings.  You can do it with your spouse on marital issues and/or with coworkers over political and social issues and what is going on in the office.  If we become intentional about listening to one another, finding some common ground when we speak, and working hard at getting at the truth with logical arguments, we will see healthier relationships, healthier marriages, and healthier political climates.

Dialogue, without active listening involved, is where we are, but not where we should be.  Can I get an Amen?

For more thoughts and opinions from Mr. Danner, check out Thinking It Through with Jerome Danner at https://jeromedanner.net/2016/09/18/episode-03-contact-sports-some-yale-university-students-and-my-argument-against-abortion/

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