Regardless of your political views, race, or religion, we should all agree that the scenes of fists flying and bloodied faces in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend were deeply disturbing. This kind of personal hatred and violence is a disgrace to the United States of America and not what has made ours the most successful country on Earth.
This internal scourge on our nation threatens the future of the United States. A healthy and vibrant society cannot survive amidst such attacks on the humanity of our fellow Americans. As I wrote on a bus in Africa back in 2013, if we hope for a healthy, prosperous nation we cannot continue to vilify our neighbors because they see the world differently. Yet we still do, and now worse.
A woman lost her life amidst a racially charged clash of ideas—a casualty of the incivility that is destroying the fabric of American society. We have become so blinded by the polarization and tribalization of our communities that we see other human beings as threats to be despised and defeated.
That tragic story can be what lives on from Charlottesville—the latest in a string of overheated clashes across the country—or we can begin to write a different story for America. We need our country to have a new and open conversation that starts with listening first.
Listen First Project wants to write that new story, one of restoring humanity and civility to our conversations and our protests. And we believe the first chapter of that story should be written in Charlottesville—with a major Listen First Conversation Event.
Imagine individuals who have significant disagreements—on any issue of interest—pledging to listen to one another and having civil conversations where violent protesters were fighting, and killing. Instead of clubs, we’ll bring conversations; instead of punches, a pledge—to listen to and consider another person’s views, to prioritize respect and understanding. Instead of lashing out, imagine opponents Listening First!
To be clear, 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. The United States of America has no place for racism. 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.
Join the Listen First movement to restore civil discourse one conversation at a time—conversations that prioritize respect and understanding. Listen First has the power to restore relationships, build bridges, and mend the frayed fabric of American society. United, we can move beyond slander and violence to seek common ground. Our future depends on it.
Pearce Godwin shared the above perspective in signing a joint Bridge Alliance statement on Charlottesville denouncing factions of abject racism. The statement said, in part, "There can be no hope for common or even higher ground when leaders support intolerance, bigotry or hatred... Hate has no place in America. True patriotism requires us to stand united at this crucial time in our history."