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Stop arguing with political opponents and start listening

When was the last time you spoke with someone of a different political persuasion than yourself and listened well enough to understand where they were coming from? Has it been a week? A month? A year?

For way too many of us, the answer to that question is “never.”

As a country, we never listen to the “other side” anymore. We listen to the people we already know, the people we already trust. But when it comes to people we don’t agree with, we only ever argue.

We are all consumed with hatred for the “other side’s” manipulations, lies, bad behaviors and ignorance. The Internet and social media have only fueled the fire by diluting sensible, measured free speech. We are cast adrift in an ocean of trolls foaming at the mouth and looking for any chance to be aggressive and mean. Unfortunately, many of us have given up and joined the fray.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s time we started treating each other less like soldiers on opposite sides of a war and more like family members.

If you’re a parent, you’ve definitely experienced a time when your kid was in the wrong. You knew they had done something bad, but hopefully your reaction wasn’t anything like, “How big of an idiot are you?” It was probably something along the lines of “Why did you do that?”

You don’t want to belittle or degrade your kid; you want them to learn from their mistakes and do better next time. As a result, you want to understand where they’re coming from, and you’re open to hearing their explanation, even if you’re certain they’re wrong.

This is how those of us on opposite political sides need to listen to each other. We need to listen with the intent to understand where the other person is coming from, and the desire to grow and become better people.

TV news doesn’t want you to do that. Facebook and Twitter don’t want you to do that. Whatever partisan news website you visit doesn’t want you to do that. They all want controversy and shouting and anger and fear and insults. All of the drama keeps more people hooked and sells more ads. It’s great for their bottom lines, even as it destroys the fabric of America.

It won’t be easy to stop arguing and start listening. We’ve been so conditioned to political fighting and never-give-an-inch attitudes that it’s almost innate for many of us. Many of our first attempts at listening may not go well; they may devolve right back into bitter and stupid fighting. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

The first step you can take is to turn off the TV. Log out of Facebook. Then, you can walk out your front door. Pay a visit to the coffee shop. Visit a church you don’t normally go to. Ask an acquaintance out to dinner. Patronize a local festival. Do something that isn’t staring at a screen, wallowing in hatred for the “other side.”

Then, give that “other side” a chance. Listen to them like you would listen to a beloved family member. Try to see where they’re coming from. Recognize there are no ulterior motives or secret agendas — they are just like you in that they care about their country and believe they know how to make it better.

You might be surprised at how much you have in common. You might find that you begin to accept where they’re coming from. If they’re willing to listen as well, you might find that they begin to accept where you’re coming from. In any case, “the other side” won’t be a demonized, faceless thing anymore; it will be another human being.

— The (Danville) Advocate-Messenger

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