Today I failed again. Eager, too eager, to prove my point I engaged in "lively debate" by arguing my point first and listening or asking questions last. And, of course it accomplished nothing. Nothing was learned, no ideas were exchanged. My "opponent" left with his own ideas validated by the vitriol of the argument, vindicated and secure in the belief of the superiority of his ideas. And I in mine.
I'm working, every day, on "active listening" and on "being present". It's something I find I'm able to do so with my wife, at least most of the time, and with my friends, some of the time, but not with those with whom I disagree. And, it seems to me that those are the most important exercises in active listening. Can I listen, without interruption, without a need to "correct" what I believe to be factual errors, without immediately arming my next rhetorical smart bomb? So far, the answer is no.
But, today I recognized that failing, again. I've seen it before and noted that it as a failing. Engaging in a back and forth volley of idea vs. idea, particularly in this age, a time when, if we choose, we can live in our own personal sound garden, completely protected against any idea that threatens to shake our world view or challenge our belief systems. The world of Fox news and MSNBC and Google search results tailored to our most read sites, make it all too easy to enfold ourselves in the warm embrace of those whose opinions we share and never venture out to understand the opposing view.
The problem then, is the ease with which it becomes possible to demonize the other side. All of "those" people are neoconservative, Fascists or left-wing, socialist fruit-loops. And so the "debate" continues. With no movement toward consensus. With the polar opposites moving every farther apart. Confrontation becomes the norm. And, when confronted isn't it our nature to dig in our heels and protect ourselves? I'm convinced, more and more each day, that the current model of opinion clashing with opinion, as exemplified by modern news outlets, only pushes us further and further apart eroding any bridges that can be built as quickly as the first stones are laid.
And so, from now on, I am vowing to listen first, and only to ask questions. I will no longer confront, as is my habit. Instead, I will ask questions. I will ask, and I will listen and then I will ask again. My hope is that this will lead my toward a better understanding of those on the opposite side of "the issues" from me, whatever those issues might be.
I don't expect this to be easy. In fact I expect it to be incredibly hard. I expect to fail more than I succeed in the beginning. But I will try. And when I fail, as I know I will, I will forgive myself, learn what I can from the experience and try again. To listen, to question to engage without confrontation.
But first I will ask the other person in today's drama for forgiveness. And let him know that although we disagree I truly wish him well.
PS - he accepted my apology. It was a good day.