What Do You Think? I’ll Listen … I Promise

April 8, 2011

Several weeks ago, while driving to work, I heard a Minnesota Public Radio conversation that bothered me so greatly I missed my exit and ended up driving around Northeast Minneapolis. (I would link to the conversation, but I may have been driving and drinking coffee so I missed the name of the person speaking, the exact show’s subject, the date, etc.)

Essentially, the speaker said that Americans don’t hold true discussions. She was commenting on the political situation, in part, noting that the political extremes don’t talk. They may debate on TV, but the object is winning, not reaching a compromise.

Surely, this isn’t a surprise to anyone, but the conversation wasn’t restricted to politicians sniping on “Meet the Press,” but about Americans like you and me who do not discuss and debate controversial subjects. She asserted that the heart of the matter was poor listening skills — the inability to hear another point of view, process it, and reassess a personal view. We’ve lost the art of debate and devolved to the art of yelling our point of view at one another.

While she was far more eloquent than my description, my brain thudded when I realized that I’ve become horrible about discussing something when I hold an opposing view. I either state my opinion with a “take it or leave it” end note or abandon the conversation. I can’t be bothered to delve into the opposition’s reasoning. How very enlightened? No.

Thus, I’ve been challenging myself to delve into these conversations through, well, listening and asking better questions. I like to think it applies to my daily job as well: One of the biggest risks we always discuss at Fast Horse is the “focus group of one” mentality, or “I would want something, thus everyone would want that same thing.”

Last night, I was reminded of this promise while watching these two videos. As a former non-profit employee and someone who worked on international digital divide projects, these videos were tough to watch. They challenged my firmly planted ideas and left me thinking. I’m trying to keep an open mind.

The Internet in Society: Empowering or Censoring Citizens?

Ethical Implications of Charitable Giving