Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
We pride ourselves as Americans that our founding documents make explicit that our “Freedom of Speech” shall reign supreme. Our right to protest, assemble, voice our opinions, and disagree with government should be revered. We believe allowing people to speak is a basic right, and furthermore believe that a democratic system benefits from a civil clash of ideas that can result in better decisions.
We also believe speech is the beginning of awareness of issues, that can then lead to engagement, justice, and change.
But consider this: our freedom of speech only matters if others are listening – and their freedom of speech only matters if we listen. The speech itself, which we hold as so vitally important, has absolutely no impact unless the person speaking has an audience hearing and understanding the words. Only then would speech have the opportunity to make an impact.
Imagine Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech with no audience. Would the words have had as much of an impact and changed the direction of our country? No. But had Dr. King spoken to an empty mall in Washington, D.C., he certainly would have been exercising his freedom to speak. Obviously, the list of examples could go on and on, but his demonstrates a simple point: listening skills are central to freedom and a functioning democracy.
So, why don’t we couple the “Freedom of Speech” with a “Right to be Listened To”? Why not champion, promote, and teach the skills and importance of listening to the degree we do with speech?
On this blog, I plan to make an argument that we have a crisis in listening in this country: we don’t have the skills or practice or examples to really listen to each other. This is the case in our day-to-day busy lives, but is particularly the case when it comes to social and political issues around which we disagree. From smart phones and screens pulling us away from quality dialogue, to gerrymandering congressional districts resulting in polarized and unproductive political discourse, to our declining rates of participation that build relationships with other like and unlike us, to the media’s inability to function without highlighting conflict, there are endless factors that make it difficult to listen – really listen.
But there is a basic realization to point out to begin: we overemphasize speaking over listening. We do so in our framing of leadership, teaching of communications, and examples of citizenship.
There is much more to come. To get updates on new posts and opportunities, be sure to check out OrangeBand.org and take the OrangeBand Leadership Pledge. As a bonus, you will get a few simple listening tips that you can use right away.
Thanks for listening!