Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Listen First mission?
Listen First Project encourages conversations towards increased respect and understanding — inspiring hope and behavior change one Listen First Pledge and Conversation at a time. LFP drives the Listen First movement to restore relationships, build bridges, and mend the frayed fabric of society. The Listen First movement is promoted coast to coast by the many organizational members of our Listen First Coalition as well as local Listen First chapters in schools and communities.
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 to others as you want them to listen to you. 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 rebuild 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?
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, regardless of reason. For example, the abject racism and anti-Semitism on display in Charlottesville 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 rebuilding 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 rebuild 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.