Listen First, Vote Second
During the 2014 midterm and 2016 presidential election seasons, Listen First Project focused on the most salient case of our failure to listen to those with whom we disagree, politics. Listen First, Vote Second included campaign signs across the country, nationally-published commentaries, news stories, radio ads, social media promotion, volunteers at the presidential conventions and earned thousands of LFP Pledge signatures. In recognition of Listen First, Vote Second, LFP Founder Pearce Godwin was honored to attend the Congressional Summit on Next Generation Leadership on Capitol Hill in Washington.
The award-winning commentaries below, from 2016 and 2014, were written by LFP Founder Pearce Godwin and published in many major newspapers across the United States from the Miami Herald to the Oklahoman.
The 2016 campaign season has taken America to new lows of civility in discourse. Never has our national conversation been more poisoned by divisive and demagogic rhetoric. Never has our need to stop and listen to one another, especially to those with whom we disagree, been more apparent.
CNN reports that 78% of voters feel America is more deeply divided on major issues than it has been in the past. It’s only by listening to one another that we will bridge the divides that plague us, yet from candidates to voters, we’re failing to do so. The rancorous polarization now gripping American culture seems to have made listening an endangered practice.
The presidential campaign has been characterized by insolence among the candidates and a fomenting of fears, resentment and animosity among voters. As communities feeling marginalized on both sides of the political spectrum seek to be heard, there’s been a lot of shouting with too little listening, much less understanding. Social media feeds are littered with unbridled rage, while friends and family members are unable to exchange ideas without combusting. Political rallies have even turned violent.
Have we lost all sense of decency and sobriety in our discourse?
The interminable pictures of discord across the country are distressing, but they don’t tell the whole story. There is hope, even where you’d least expect it. Listen First Project partnered with Urban Confessional and The Listening Center to promote listening outside the Republican and Democratic national conventions. Our volunteers in Cleveland and Philadelphia found many people in those hyper political environments anxious to engage in respectful conversations, to be heard but also to listen.
Thousands of people across the country have signed the Listen First pledge this year – committing to fully listen to and consider another person’s views before sharing their own, prioritize respect and understanding in conversation, and encourage others to do the same. A Listen First Project poll found that 57 percent of voters believe that if people with different viewpoints listened to and considered the other side first it would make a major or even huge impact on our politics and society.
The restoration of civil discourse starts with each of us as individuals, one conversation at a time. When we begin listening to one another and expecting the same of our leaders, the tone will change. We can rise above the shameful vitriol and violence of the 2016 campaign. We can move beyond slander and seek common ground, with new respect and appreciation for the other side.
Regardless of which side you’re on, let’s commit to listen first, vote second this year. And let’s continue listening as new issues arise over the years to come.
We’ll be stronger together when we make America listen again.
Pearce Godwin, Founder & President of Listen First Project
Is there any way to improve the tone of our national discourse, to alleviate the rancor that's gripping our politics and society? Voters believe the answer is simple: Listen first.
A recent poll of North Carolina voters by Listen First Project found that 57 percent believe that "if people with different viewpoints listened to and considered the other side first" it would make a major or huge impact on our politics and society. Only 6 percent believe it would have "no impact" on our culture. In the September NBC News/Wall Street Journal national poll, voters were asked what one message they would like to send to politicians with their vote this year. The top open-ended response was "bipartisanship, work together, compromise."
It sounds so easy, and clearly the interest in positive change exists, but it can be a steep challenge for most of us. But we don't have a choice. If we hope for a healthy, prosperous nation, we cannot continue to demagogue our neighbors because they see the world differently, suggesting that not only their opinions but they themselves are somehow less. That's not who we aspire to be as an American people, as a "city on a hill" for the world to see.
Listen First Project has launched the Listen First, Vote Second campaign around this midterm election season. We have yard signs across the state mixed in with the ubiquitous red and blue candidate signs that we're all used to seeing this time of year. The #ListenFirstVoteSecond message is spreading on social media as well. We're promoting this message with the belief that the greatest societal change begins with the people, at the grassroots level. Our political leaders take cues from us.
Every election season, and most every day in the modern political and technological climate, we're reminded of the issues that divide us. And that's OK. The United States is made better by passionate and vigorous debate on issues that shape our nation. We will never and should never all agree on everything, but that doesn't mean the status quo can't change. We can move beyond slander and seek common ground, with a new respect and appreciation for the other side.
While politics, especially during election season, provides the starkest example of our failure to listen to one another, it's far from the only arena in which we face this challenge. Our failure to listen is affecting our relationships and productivity at every level, from the kitchen table and classroom all the way to Congress and the United Nations.
We're all culpable, and we're all responsible for change. It starts with me. It starts with you. Let's make a new commitment to fully listen to and consider another person's views before sharing our own, prioritize respect and understanding in conversation and encourage others to do the same.
This election year Listen First, Vote Second.
Pearce Godwin, Founder & President of Listen First Project