If there is one thing the election hopefully has taught a lot of people, it is that we are not good at listening to each other. (Don’t worry. This is not a political post. Just stick with me) As someone living in New York City surrounded by millions of other liberals I was stunned watching states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania turn red. Turns out, I have no idea what it feels like to live in “The Rust Belt” and watch people around me struggle to find jobs and give their families the life they wish they could.
And I watched, after a man played on people’s fears and further marginalized people of color, women, immigrants, and Muslims, almost half of all voters overlook those hateful epithets, further dividing a country that he now has the duty to bring back together. Social media looked like thousands of people all trying to have a conversation with their own megaphone. Most of it was an unproductive hot mess. I would be fascinated to see data about if Facebook posts actually changed people’s minds, or if it just caused us to fall deeper into our own worlds, causing deeper rifts between political colors.
No matter what, what did not happen enough was listening to each other. Politics and religion bring out the worst in us. Compassion, patience, and having an open mind often gets thrown out the window. We are so set in our ways that we no longer regard others’ opinions and stories. If we are ever going to progress, this has to change.
We have all been taught at some time or another what active listening is. For those who need a refresher, active listening means:
- Maintain good eye contact
- Square your shoulders to face the other person
- Do not interrupt
- Nod your head a various points
- Paraphrase what the other person said before asserting your own, well thought out, response or prior to asking another question.
Those all sound great, and sure, they could work. But I would like to offer an alternative:
Just care, friends. When you care about someone you naturally lean in, maintain good eye contact, ask better questions, etc. It is possible for you to fake active listening, believe me I have done it. But it is not possible to fake caring. When someone tries to fake caring it is so blatantly obvious (perhaps you watched the Presidential debates?). It’s time to start having better conversations. It’s time to start caring.
People tell me they hate small talk because it is inauthentic and surface. The main way we shift from
small talk into meaningful dialogue is by choosing to car. When humans choose to care about someone else they slow down. Caring people are question-askers, rather than explainers and advice-givers. They practice patience AND empathy.
I am not sure when it became cool to not care, but the phrase “zero fucks” has permeated its way deep into our culture. If you don’t give any fucks, then what will you ever be proud of? It’s time to change the way we interact with each other. Start with your next conversation. Catch yourself if your brain wanders and then reinvest, lean in, share something about yourself, ask a deeper question, reflect about their answer. This election did not teach me that we are not listening to each other, it just reinforced that unfortunate reality. Let us be better humans. Let us care.