Politics: Do People Really Listen?

I can't hear you!

I was at the park today, doing some homework, when a pint-sized bulldog waddled its way to our picnic bench. He held a brownish-yellow tennis ball in his mouth. He snorted and tried to coax me into grabbing the ball from him. My girlfriend, distracted from her studies, wondered whether it was French or British.
The dog’s owner meandered over to us. He was a plump, smiling man with a white handlebar mustache.
“What are you studying?” He said.
Japanese, I told him, I want to live there. He told me I’d at least be safe there, since there aren’t a whole lot of Muslims in Tokyo.
My girlfriend later told me she’d drawn a red flag right then, but I didn’t see it. After all, plenty of people say plenty of ignorant things, and you can’t argue with all of them. Besides, starting an argument with a smiling gentleman on a sunny summer day is just about last on my list.
Now personally, I’m a big fan of Bernie Sanders, and eventually, I came out with it. I did it casually, with a chuckle that was genuine and conversational. My girl put her head down against the table. Her social senses were more on cue than mine: I found myself in the middle of a political debate, with no idea how I’d gotten there. He really started to talk.
His points about Greece’s failed economy were interesting. I also liked his thoughts on how even if we raised taxes on the super-wealthy, they’d find a way to cheat the system. I wanted to discuss that. But unfortunately, the discussion wasn’t open. He made several errors in his discourse, and whenever I started to answer some of his misinformation with a correction, he talked over me.
Finally, he walked away, saying, “I used to be an idealist, and that’s nice, but I haven’t heard one fact from you.” Of course not. You haven’t tried to listen.
And I think that’s a fundamental assumption in talking politics. We’re all so fortunate to have been blessed with a perfect and infallible set of political views, aren’t we? Why should we listen to anyone else’s points, and keep an open mind? It would seem that we’re all set in our ways. But how will anything get done without compromise and listening?
In kindergarten, I got into a fight with one of my classmates over the triangle blocks. You remember those. He needed them for his roof. But I wanted the last two for the garnishing outside my brand new block house. When he insisted on having them I pushed him on the floor. The teacher came over and asked us to share. After a minute I apologized for pushing, the kid said sorry to me. And I gave him the triangle blocks. They weren’t so important after all, and he needed them more. How else would he keep the rain out? I cared more about being right than the actual blocks.
And you know what? It’s not so different. I would have made mistakes in my argument, too, had I been given the chance. But that’s the beauty of constructive conversation: we fill in the gaps, inform, illuminate each other with new ideas and possibilities. So I challenge you, reader, to question your views in your next debate. If you’re still right, stick by your guns. But listen to the other side. As long as you and I keep that in mind, we will always continue to grow.

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