On July 20th, 2013, I sat awake on a bumpy overnight bus ride from Kampala, Uganda to Nairobi, Kenya. I thought about coming home to North Carolina after 5 years in Washington and 5 months in Africa. And I was distraught. I had heard that the vitriolic division already commonplace in D.C. had made a home in Raleigh that summer.
After witnessing deadly starvation in Karamoja, Uganda, I would return to the most prosperous land on Earth only to find people vilifying one another over differences in worldview. The more I thought about it, the more incensed I became.
By the time I saw the sun rising over Nairobi, I had written It's Time to Listen. I found an internet cafe and uploaded my thoughts to my blog and Facebook. When I next logged on in Arusha, Tanzania, I was surprised by the strength of the reaction to my simple idea. Friends suggested I send the piece to newspapers. I started with the Raleigh News & Observer and was thrilled to see it and many other papers across America share my thoughts with millions of readers. I had struck a nerve.
Blown away by the resonance of my transoceanic musings, my wife Chrissy and I resolved to translate those words into action and make a tangible impact on public discourse in America. Overlooking the Indian Ocean from Zanzibar, we named our new initiative Listen First Project.
For four years, Listen First Project has been a Pearce in his Pajamas operation. I've been inspired by the support and encouragement of so many folks across the country and world, but there was only so much I could do to grow Listen First in the margins of my life with a demanding job. Meanwhile, the problem of incivility grew to be a virulent scourge on our land.
The division and incivility that so troubled me in July 2013 seems almost quaint now. Oh that our discord could be contained to hot rhetoric. No, today we use bullets, torches, and cars to make our points.
The tragedy in Charlottesville was a disgrace to the United States of America—fists flying, bloodied faces, abject racism. Heather Heyer lost her life amidst a clash of ideas—a casualty of the incivility that is destroying the fabric of American society.
The United States will not survive as a healthy, prosperous nation if we continue to vilify and inflict violence upon our neighbors because they see the world differently. We must turn this tide before it's too late.
So I've quit my job and gone all in on Listen First.
I refuse to stand by and watch this nation become a shell of itself, terrorized from within by our inability to do something as simple as listen to one another, especially when we disagree.
I have been deeply blessed to have my entire University of North Carolina Executive MBA class of 45 incredibly and diversely talented people join my leadership team. This new firepower combined with many longtime supporters and new partners from across the country in my Listen First Coalition—totaling more than 100 Listen First leaders—gives me incredible faith in the future of Listen First.
I ask you to join me in our Listen First movement to restore civil discourse, as we encourage conversation towards increased respect and understanding. Listen First has the power to restore relationships, build bridges and mend the frayed fabric of society. We inspire hope for a brighter future and encourage individual behavior change, starting with me. As each one of us pledge to Listen First, we will restore civil discourse, one Listen First Conversation at a time.
I'm all in. Are you?
Listening for a change,
Founder & CEO
Listen First Project