Dan Hazen: We can speak our minds but can we learn to listen?

Our opinions are only half of the discussion. We have learn to accept when we’ve lost an argument.

Dan Hazen

Dan Hazen

By Dan Hazen / Herald Forum

Contempt has always been a companion of community, and maybe the mistress of politics. But a new kind of intimacy with contempt arrived during the 2015 campaign season and it has not demurred. It is unvarnished, largely unfocused, and deeply damaging.

At various points over the intervening seven years, I have awaited (and even done my little part to manifest) a counter movement to contempt. Sadly, a significant number of people have decided that the best response to contempt is more contempt. Honestly, I don’t understand why otherwise sane people would decide to throw gasoline on a fire with the intent of putting it out. But this is now our reality.

Last year, people contemptuously shouted down, threatened and eventually derailed a Marysville School Board meeting over mask policies. This year, contempt for parents, families and the school board have infected a debate on the issue of parental consent for after school clubs. Both groups saw conspiracy, ignorance, malevolence and cowardice in their opponents. Few seem capable or willing to consider someone with an opinion other than their own anything less than an enemy.

Meanwhile, students in Marysville (for whom everyone claims compassion) will continue to suffer as buildings decay, teachers are let go, programs are cut and the very real issues which require our best nuanced thinking are reduced to poorly reasoned propaganda hastily scrawled on cardboard signs or spewed on social media.

Contempt accomplishes nothing. As a species, we have sporadically recognized this truth and acted. Things like the Geneva Convention grew from the acknowledgment that even in war, contempt for one’s opponents has no place.

Yet “hear” we are.

Let me propose that a starting place for change might be with how we listen. Well, more accurately how we fail. Due to a lot of well-meaning pop psychology, we have been sold the idea that to “be heard” and to “speak our truth” is the highest human dignity. This is panning out to be patently false. This lopsided view of communication has blended with decades of run-away consumeristic thinking to create the toxic fallacy that, “If I do not get what I want, then I have not been listened to.”

I see this principle at work across many platforms of human interaction. If a debate, a policy decision, a vote or even a purchase doesn’t meet our expectations, we believe we have not been listened to. Friends, sometimes you have been perfectly listened to, and the answer is still “no.” It is not automatically disrespect. It is not always the patriarchy, or racism. It is not always a “false flag” operation or a radical, left-wing plot. Sometimes, we just don’t agree on the best course of action.

A mentor of mine said, “Stop resisting your life; resisting what is. The only thing to be resisted is evil.”

Your neighbors are not evil. Your neighbors are misunderstood, and that’s on you. Instead of “listening” as a strategy to avoid charges of ignorance and a means of simply clarifying what you want, let’s try listening with the goal of perceiving.

It will take some serious courage, because the leaders of whatever tribe you identify with will likely see your effort to listen as treason. But listening is reason.

Dan Hazen is the community pastor for Allen Creek Community Church. He lives in Marysville.

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