This election brought out deep divisions in our nation that have been developing for years. We have been polarized by divisive rhetoric into two different Americas.
A year removed from a controversial, passionate and tumultuous year on campus, we now must grapple with an election that surprised at every turn. Dealing with our future may feel daunting, and it is, but it is also an opportunity. We find ourselves in the unique and privileged position to listen to each other, understand unfamiliar points of view, heal wounds and drive progress. But how can we, individually, work to accomplish this?
In asking myself this question, I keep returning to a message I learned while becoming a Communication and Consent Educator. As CCEs like me worked with the Peer Liaisons, we discussed the challenges one faces when engaging with unfamiliar communities and spaces. We acknowledged that despite good intentions and common goals, rarely, if ever, do two communities share an identical language for both casual and serious discussions. Therefore, we should “listen generously” to have productive conversations across communities.
“Listening generously” is a frame of mind that begins from a place of mutual engagement, interest and desire. This practice starts by assuming the good intentions of the person you are speaking with, assuming that they are sincerely seeking to understand and empathize with your experiences or point of view. After the assumption of good intentions, “listening generously” involves acknowledging that, at times, we might not find the right words. But when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we create space to explore new ideas. This type of speaking and listening provides the opportunity to truly understand each other and our differences. The possibility of a conversation ending abruptly and on bad terms decreases when we listen generously to each other. Listening generously will allow for new conservations.
Why is this so important? More than ever, people with different points of view are choosing to disengage with each other, as we see on our campus and across our country. This election cycle, many liberals defriended Trump supporters and vice versa. It is dangerous for us to shut ourselves off to those we don’t agree with: in politics and all aspects of life. It is the attitude that Trump supporters are automatically wrong and should not be listened to or engaged with that made Hillary’s defeat so stunning and unexpected at Yale. We’re not talking to each other. And often, not listening generously. This slows our progress and further polarizes us.
We should listen to, seek to understand and respond to those with whom we disagree to build a more civil and united society. Ask “why” to understand the motivations behind a point of view before you counter with your own. Do not make assumptions. If open discourse does not occur, people will not change. It is in difficult and tense conversations like those surrounding this election where generous listening is needed most.
This is not to say that people should be forced into conversations they do not want to have. No one is obliged to tolerate hatred or a conversation that does not start from a place of mutual engagement and respect. Discourse must occur across all community lines. This responsibility falls on us all, not solely on communities that have felt the most pain and discrimination. We all must be involved, now more than ever.
This concept of “generosity” goes both ways and the individual broaching a conversation also must be cognizant of whether the other person wants to open up. And more importantly, start these conversations after you’ve done the legwork — study the literature, reflect on your experiences and make sure you’re abreast of current events. Engaging with friends and peers is how we can solidify this work.
Once these discussions begin in our communities, it is mutually beneficial to practice generous listening. Discourse will open doors to more deeply understand each other and foster a more productive culture. Pursuing truth involves considering all opinions. Listening generously is a project of optimism and empathy – one that can make our Yale community and nation more whole.
Steven Lewis is a junior in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .