Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Listen First mission?
Listen First Project encourages conversations that prioritize understanding to bridge divides and mend our frayed social fabric, addressing the universally felt crisis of division and dehumanization across differences. We catalyze the #ListenFirst movement powered by ~250 partner organizations, thousands of individuals, National Conversation Project, and local chapters around the world. LFP focuses on society at large, schools, and workplaces while recognizing those who champion the Listen First mission.
Polarized tribalism is a gargantuan problem, can we really change it?
No doubt about it! The division that has gripped America 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 can turn the tide of rising rancor and deepening division. Each person who listens first to understand the other tips the scales toward a stronger future for our nation. In conversations—and the relationships they build—is hope for mending the frayed fabric of America by bridging divides.
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." 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 mend the frayed fabric of America.
Is Listen First just about politics and divisive issues?
Absolutely not. Politics 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 workplace. It's always easier to point fingers at others, especially politicians in Washington, but bridging divides starts with each of us individually across all of our relationships.
Is there any limit or exception to the Listen First ideal?
Listen First Project in principle welcomes perspectives from all points on the ideological map. We should all strive to Listen First—prioritizing respect and understanding—even to ideas we find offensive. Only by engaging those with whom we disagree will we make progress. However, we draw the line at stating another person or group of persons is less valued as a human being, attacking the humanity of another. For example, the abject racism and anti-Semitism on display in Charlottesville in August 2017 voids the privilege of a Listen First response. While we would like to gain an understanding of that perspective in order to eradicate it and heal our land, we need not respect or normalize the belief. Listen First is about improving humanity by bridging divides. 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. 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 mend the frayed fabric of America by bridging divides one conversation at a time.
What if everybody listened first? Nobody would talk.
We get a good laugh when this point is raised, but Listen First means a lot more than simply not talking first.
Listen First to understand rather than to reply
Listen First before rejecting a conversation
Listen First before dismissing alternative ideas
Listen First before launching attacks
Listen First to more effectively advocate your position
Also, wouldn't a situation in which everyone is inclined to listen first be the beginning of a tremendously enriching conversation?
How can I learn more about listening?
Our Vice President-Training, Graham Bodie, PhD has shared a wealth of knowledge about listening on the Listen First Academy page.