BrooksBlog: Learning How To Listen To Those We Don’t Agree With
I don’t often post online, as most of you probably know. I seldom respond to criticism or attacks. I don’t much involve myself in comments or postings on what is going on in the real world. I read what others write now and then, but mostly I keep myself to myself. I just believe that what I need to do in this life – what all of us need to do, really – is to listen to both sides of every argument, come to an understanding of what it asks of me, and act on it in whatever way I think might help.
The election of earlier this month has made that decision seem wiser than ever. I am aware that I have readers on both sides of the fence on almost every issue the country has been struggling with for at least the last decade. I am lucky that both sides come together over my books. I consider that something of an accomplishment. I like it that no matter how extreme anyone’s political views or beliefs, they still find common ground through my writing. This is a large part of what fiction is supposed to do. I have a very definite agenda with each new book. I write about people is difficult situations. They face problems often not of their own making. They struggle to understand their world and the way it so often seems to work against them. They have prejudices and suffer failings, just as you and I do. But mostly they are all trying to do the right thing and make the world of the Four Lands or Word & Void or Landover a better place in which to live.
Saturday I attended the local version of Ted Talks. Here, it is called TEDxSEATTLE. You can read all about Ted Talks online, so I won’t waste time on it here. Usually, it involves people who have led extraordinary lives, made significant contributions to the betterment of Man, or espoused beliefs and causes that resonate with us all. I go to this event every year and each time come home the better for it.
The speaker who touched me the most deeply this year was Celeste Headlee. She talked about the need for learning how to listen to those we disagree with. What she was saying was that we all need to learn to understand why they feel the way they do. We need to engage in conversation about issues we disagree on without deciding beforehand that they are wrong and we are right and there is nothing to be gained by listening to anything they have to say.
Because that is where we are in this country. Polarized and opinionated, every last one of us. We know what we know. We don’t need to hear from the other side. We don’t need to reconsider what we think is true. We don’t need anyone telling us why we might want to rethink our opinions. We just need to stick with those people who think like we do and agree with our opinions and tell the rest of them to drop dead.
Isn’t this what is happening with our government? Isn’t this at the core of most of our problems with how it functions?
Well, guess what? It’s at the core of our problems as citizens of the United States, too.
This refusal to listen and try to understand others is not a new attitude or agenda or approach in either the government or the people of our country. It is, sadly, something that has been building steadily towards the present for more years than I care to count. The results are becoming apparent. We are regressing as a society in every conceivable way. We are setting a terrible example for our children. We are creating an atmosphere of discouragement and anger and fear. Nothing feels like it used to. Nothing seems safe and certain to us. Everything is out of whack, and we are all certain that we know what the right thing to do is and we are fighting to see that it gets done.
All it takes is a single buzz word, and that opinion we’ve formed and clung to springs full-blown to life and we shut down.
But in the process, we are losing ourselves. We are isolating into small political and cultural groups. We are becoming more and more polarized, and it has to stop. I am here to tell you, like it or not, that we have to start listening to each other and learning from each other and stop demonizing each other for our beliefs or our race or our religion or our sexual preferences or – at the end of the day – our differences from each other, period.
Now I am not fooling myself about any of this, and I realize that we are all going to continue to stand up for what we believe in and espouse the causes we find important and struggle to improve things in our own way. Good on us. We should. But in the course of this effort, can we be a little kinder and more considerate about it? Can we refrain from throwing out opinions in other people’s faces like barbs to cut and burn? And we stop emulating the worst of our public figures and cease blaming and castigating whole groups of people for things that are not their fault?
Do me a favor. I am not asking anything of you I wouldn’t ask of myself. But do this. You are my readers, and I treasure you. I want to think the best of you. I want you to be good people. So step away once in a while from where you get your news. Stop spending time only with those who believe as you do. Try to think and speak well of others – particularly family, friends and neighbors – no matter their beliefs. We are all in this together, here on this planet for at least our lifetimes, and we have to find ways to settle disputes without casting blame. You can do this in small ways. You can do this locally – you don’t need to be part of a larger movement. You can do this by thinking independently. You can do this with smiles and a kind word and helping where you see it is needed, even if it is sometimes inconvenient or difficult. You can change your own behavior more quickly than you can change the behavior of others. You can set an example. You need to. We all need to.
Every religion on this planet teaches this. Every civilized moral code requires it. We don’t need to stop thinking or debating or standing up for what we think is right. But we do need to be better about the ways we do it.
Because our government and our society are reflections of the individuals who comprise them. Our government is us. Our society reflects who we are. If we wait around for either one to solve our problems or in some mysterious way bring about change, we shall grow old and gray without it happening. We have to make the changes needed. We have to be the ones that instigate and permit those changes. It is all on us as individuals, and it has to begin right where we live and work and make our lives.
Start now. Start today. Keep at it until I see you next year at whatever bookstore, or convention or comic con I manage to see you at. Let’s work together on this. Let’s be partners and friends to and with each other while we find our way.
Terry, on November 21, 2016.