Frequently Asked Questions
Incivility is a gargantuan problem, can we really change it?
No doubt about it! The incivility that has gripped American discourse and society is a multi-generational, seemingly intractable problem that appears to only get worse -- as if it's an arms race to cultural destruction. But as Margaret Mead famously said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." We firmly believe that as each of us individually -- one by one -- pledge and practice Listen First, civility will catch on and we, you, will transform discourse one conversation at a time. It's only a matter of time before we reach a critical mass of citizens who will accept nothing less from each other and our leaders.
So we should just compromise, hold hands, and sing Kumbaya?
A little singing around the campfire with people who don't think like us couldn't hurt, but no. We certainly shouldn't always agree (how boring would that be?!), and compromise won't always be a good answer. There are deeply held principles that no one should be expected to violate. The point is not agreement but gaining a new understanding and respect for alternative views and those who hold them, moving beyond slander and seeking common ground. As we say in the Listen First Pledge, "prioritize respect and understanding in conversation."
What if the other person isn't listening?
You are responsible for you. Some of our parents' best advice comes to mind: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and "Kill them with kindness." In fact, one of our Listen First Conversation Guidelines is based on that Golden Rule -- Listen as you want to be listened to. If we want to see change in culture, it starts with each of us looking in the mirror and pledging to Listen First regardless of what others do. We are confident that such a basic but revolutionary practice will rub off on others and ultimately restore civil discourse.
Is Listen First just about politics and controversial issues?
Absolutely not. Political discourse may be the most salient case of our failure to listen to those with whom we disagree, but it's far from the only one. Our failure to listen is harming our relationships and culture in every area including the family dinner table, neighborhood, classroom, and business world. It's always easier to point fingers at others, especially folks in Washington, but restoring civil discourse starts with each of us individually. When the general population begins to Listen First, we will demand the same of our leaders, and they will follow suit.
Is there any limit or exception to the Listen First ideal?
In the aftermath of hatred and violence erupting in Charlottesville, Virginia, our founder Pearce Godwin addressed the limits of the Listen First ideal as it relates to physical violence and racism. As he said, "Physical violence is a non-subjective line across which you have voided the privilege of a Listen First response. But it's not the only one. Abject racism also crosses this line. Believing another person is less human or less valued due to the color of their skin is racist. While I would like to gain understanding of that perspective in order to move beyond racism and heal our land, I need not respect or normalize the belief... Listen First is about improving humanity by restoring civil discourse. We cannot improve humanity if we attack the humanity of our fellow Americans or anyone else." Free speech is a central tenet of our country as protected by the Constitution. The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that hate speech is protected under the First Amendment. Therefore, the question is not whether a given type of speech is allowed but rather our most appropriate and productive response as individual citizens to speech that explicitly degrades the humanity of others. America's founders spoke of allowing space for robust debate; that is our goal as well. We don't wish to limit speech or constrain the space for dialogue in any way. Rather, we step into these vast and varied spaces with Listen First Conversations and a pledge to prioritize respect and understanding as much as possible.
How can I get involved and make a difference?
Thank you for stepping up and in to a movement bigger than any one of us! Start by Pledging to Listen First, then engage in Listen First Conversations, especially with people you may not agree with. Use #ListenFirst in your face-to-face and online conversations to remind others of our need to listen to one another. Donate to grow the Listen First movement and put a bumper sticker on your car to amplify our message! Together, we will restore civil discourse in America and around the world one conversation at a time.
What if everybody listened first? Nobody would talk.
We get a good laugh when this point is raised -- the logical extreme of the Listen First ideal. We have an awfully long way to go before seeing this conundrum, but it would be a wonderful problem to have! We're certain that after first deferring to one another, someone would speak up. On the other hand, we could probably use a little more peace and quiet with one another.