Why can't we be friends: the importance of listening in today's political climate

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As a strategy consultant, I do a lot of careful listening.  I listen to all types of people our clients serve: I listen to nonprofit leaders to understand their challenges, to industry experts to learn best practices, to elementary school teachers, to first-generation college students, to wrongfully incarcerated individuals, all so that I can understand their needs and help our clients address them.

 

This deliberate listening is core to our work at Wellspring; it is fundamental to our ability to support nonprofits in achieving their missions. And yet, the other day I failed to listen.

 

It happened during a Friday-night conversation over healthcare, when listening was not on my agenda and proving my deeply-held beliefs was. I slung data point after data point at my friend, mounting a case for why I was right and he was wrong. And as I did, I never stopped to hear his point of view. I never tried to understand his perspective or why it was different than my own.

 

This inability to engage with and talk through difference is symptomatic of a challenge plaguing our nation.  We see it everywhere - across political parties, within news outlets, and yes, in our personal lives. But as individuals committed to the social sector, we cannot afford not to listen. As consultants, like myself, or leaders, funders, and direct service providers in the nonprofit field, carrying out our work demands that we forge bridges and build allies across communities of difference.  But we cannot do this if we do not listen first.

 

I am embarrassed that I missed an opportunity to learn from someone with different perspective than I, and, in turn, to help him understand mine. It’s a mistake that I do not plan to make again. I hope you will consider joining me in this commitment and help close the widening gap of difference across our nation today.