2,500+ people have shared our call to #ListenFirst in 2018!

"The past several years have been hard on conversations. 75 percent of Americans now believe the lack of civility has reached a crisis level. The growing problem is that animosity for positions has become disdain for the people who hold them. A healthy and vibrant society cannot survive amidst attacks on the humanity of our fellow Americans.

But each person who sets aside interpersonal conflict for conversation and pledges to listen first tips the scales toward a new direction. In conversations—and the relationships they build—is hope for bridging the divides that threaten the fabric of America."

From "Resolving to Listen First in 2018" by Pearce Godwin, published in The Hill 1/1/2018

Former White Supremacists at Listen First in Charlottesville

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Listen First in Charlottesville hopes to be an impactful event for a hurting city and an inspiration for America as a whole. With national media coverage and many partners from across the country joining us for the weekend, it will kick off the first annual National Week of Conversation. Local and national influencers will model and practice Listen First in Charlottesville—where the collapse of civility in America was tragically put into stark relief. One of those influencers is Christian Picciolini.

As a former leader in the white supremacist movement, Christian offers a poignant and eye-opening perspective on the abject hate and racism that visited Charlottesville last year. His story of falling into, then abandoning the movement and spending the last 20 years helping others escape hate is one of pain, transformation, and redemption. I asked Christian how listening has played a role in his work. He told me the following.

"People want to be heard, not talked to, so I listen more than I speak. I listen for potholes -- the trauma, fear, shame, joblessness, mental illness, poverty, privilege -- that detour people's lives. And then I fill them in. It's amazing how building human resilience, self-confidence, connection to others versus a culture of blaming others can obliterate hate without ever saying a word."

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Christian shared this message on 60 Minutes recently when asked what he says when he first sits down with someone lost in hate. He replied, "I'm there to listen because they're used to people not listening to them." On the Today show, Megyn Kelly asked what his message is to adults worried about young people falling into such darkness. Christian said, "We need to listen I think more than we speak."

Faced with an opportunity to change, and even save, someone's life, Christian listens first. His example in such a high stakes situation should inspire us to do the same when we're attempting to change a mind, advocate a cause, or build a relationship. 

In this gripping video, Christian challenges us "to go out there as human beings every day to make good happen and to show compassion and empathy for the people who you think deserve it the least, because chances are good they're the ones who need it the most."

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I've just finished listening to Christian's new book White American Youth, and strongly recommend it to you. He ends the book by saying, "what becomes of the human race is everyone's responsibility... when one of us refuses to be part of what is wrong with the world, the world becomes brighter for all of us... we all have the ability to make good happen if we just try." Amen to that! One conversation at a time.

Christian's friend and partner in this redemptive mission, Shannon Martinez, a former skinhead herself, recently shared her own story of trauma, rage, and relationship on the Today show. We're honored to have Shannon and Christian both joining us at Listen First in Charlottesville on April 21st.  

"Listen First in 2018" - The Hill

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Happy New Year! Today, I call on every American to "make a fresh choice for 2018 — a new resolution to listen first." My New Years column in DC's The Hill looks back at 2017 as a year of serial controversy lacking in real conversations — illuminated by stark survey data — but finds hope in the words of former presidents and a trauma surgeon as well as in the opportunity for our Listen First Coalition to grow the movement this year. In the Washington publication, which has praised LFP's "heroic steps to get people to talk to each other," I call on political leaders to be Listen First Candidates in 2018. But "change is up to us — the people... In listen first conversations — and the relationships they build — is hope for bridging the divides that threaten the fabric of American society." Read the column here.

A reason for hope this season

The holiday season traditionally brings great hope. But many are losing hope that we can save our society from ripping itself apart. It feels like divisions are deepening and rancor is rising. It's scary to think about where our current path is headed. We can't afford to give up hope for a turnaround.

I'm heartened by the fact that our fractured society is still made up of individual people. That means each person who adopts the Listen First Pledge and each person who engages in a Listen First Conversation tips the scales towards a new direction for society at large. If we can reach enough people, culture will change. 

Each of us must decide what role we're going to play in shaping our shared future. Will we passively accept perpetual 'us versus them' conflict or will we actively encourage 'me and you' conversations that bridge divides?

In conversations—and the relationships they build—is hope.

Voices of Healing to be at Listen First in Charlottesville

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On Saturday, April 21st, we'll begin writing the first chapter of a new story for America, one of restoring humanity and civility to our conversations and our protests. We're going to Listen First in Charlottesville—where the collapse of civility in America was tragically put into stark relief this past August. With inspiring national voices from across the spectrum, we'll spark a transformational grassroots movement of respect and understanding, in a city that witnessed just the opposite.

I'm excited to introduce you to two of our event co-hosts, heroes of reconciliation who emerged from the racial violence of Ferguson, Missouri and Dallas, Texas with messages of hope and healing. 

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Dr. Brian Williams, a black trauma surgeon, treated the white police officers who were killed in Dallas. He said through tears on CNN, “I don’t know why this has to be us against them… we are all in this together… all this hatred, all these disagreements, it impacts us all… Something has to be done. I don’t see people truly listening to the other side… and until we’re ready to do that, there probably will not be any truly substantive change.”

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Pastor F. Willis Johnson stood in the middle of the racially charged protests in Ferguson, Missouri to offer love and strength. Reflecting on a poignant moment with a young protester, captured in a dramatic photo, he said, "This is not a race issue in and of itself; it's a human issue." He continues to lead the Ferguson community towards "some point of reconciliation and resolution" because "we want the cycle to stop." 

I'm honored to have Dr. Williams and Pastor Johnson join our movement to bridge divides through Listen First Conversations.

Fostering a New Generation of Listen First Leaders

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When I launched Listen First Project from Africa in 2013, one of the goals I wrote down was "Foster a new generation of Listen First leaders." Now dedicated full-time to this mission and joined by a team of 130+ passionate leaders, that vision is becoming a reality. Last week our original college chapter at Duke hosted a Listen First Conversation among Duke Democrats and College Republicans that earned rave reviews.

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Today, I'm excited to announce a joint venture with our friends at BridgeUSA to amplify our message on college campuses coast to coast by launching many new college chapters together. BridgeUSA, begun by students at Notre Dame and Colorado, has had remarkable success promoting rich Listen First Conversations among fellow students of widely diverse perspectives. Our Bridge college chapters will complement Listen First chapters in high schools and communities. We also welcome BridgeUSA executive Manu Meel, a sophomore at Berkeley, onto the LFP Leadership Team. Manu shared the following thoughts on our partnership: 

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“Our team at BridgeUSA has been thrilled to see students on campuses across the country successfully bridge divides in their communities and champion ideological diversity. I believe these young people are models for the change we need to better our culture. We at BridgeUSA are excited to apply our early success and experience to this joint venture with Listen First Project, leading the expansion of college chapters across America as a foundational component of the Listen First movement to bridge divides.”

Please let us know if you or someone you know would like to launch a chapter at their high school or college. The Listen First movement to bridge divides is taking off, and we'd love for you to be an active part of our mission!

Why I Listen First

When I think about how I developed the listening skills I have today, my mind immediately jumps to my month-long adventures on the coast of North Carolina. Camp placed a heavy emphasis on the importance of listening and respect, which created an atmosphere that truly demonstrates the Listen First mentality.

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A major goal of camp founder Wyatt Taylor was to “foster self-confidence, independence, consideration of others, respect for our fragile environment, and a spirit of cooperation.” With this in mind, summer camp provided a place where campers, counselors, and directors could immerse themselves in a culture that fosters respect and listening. Campers, coming from all over the world are encouraged to listen to and learn from one another. When conflicts arise, campers learn to see the situation from the other person’s point of view and come to a conclusion civilly. Each night before bed, campers share their thoughts during devotions. They voice what is on their minds, while all of their cabin mates listen quietly and provide meaningful insight. Campers do not fight to be heard but rather strive to understand each other’s stories. This atmosphere leads to sincere friendships and substantial character growth.

For counselors, there is a huge emphasis placed on actively listening to your co-counselors, directors, and most importantly, your campers. During training, the directors stress the importance of unplugging from our tech-reliant world and placing all of our focus on the campers’ experiences. It is more than just listening, but rather honestly trying to understand their needs. The best thing a camper can have is a counselor that makes them feel heard. It is amazing how much I learned from kids ten years younger than me just by listening and engaging in what they had to say.

I have tried to take the listening skills I acquired at camp back to the real world. However, being an attentive listener in today’s world makes you the minority. It is so much easier to have the Listen First mindset when others around you are actively trying to embody this as well. Though the camp bubble is in some ways just that, a bubble, this does not mean that we cannot apply this camp mindset in our schools and in our everyday interactions with one another. Now more than ever, it is critical that children learn the importance of listening to one another. If they don’t, all they will know is the hostility that currently exists. So whether you are a teacher, a counselor, a parent, or just a friend, remember to set the example and be a Listen First role model for those around you.

 

Divisions have never been worse. Why?

America is waking up to an existential crisis within our borders. More than 7 in 10 people say our divisions have never been worse and that incivility has reached a crisis level. How did we get here? And what can we do about it? The following societal trends and survey data tell an incredible story. 

Causes of unprecedented division

  • Steadily rising social and political tensions rooted in diverging reactions to relentless economic, demographic and cultural changes reshaping American life.
  • Most profound demographic transformation since the Melting Pot era at the turn of the 20th century. Almost 40% of the total population is now non-white, roughly double the share in 1980. People born abroad now constitute about 14% of all Americans. 
  • Eight in 10 Americans identified as white Christians through the 1960s. Increase in non-white population and decline of Christianity has pushed white Christians to just 43% of the population. Nearly a quarter of Americans today are unaffiliated with any religious faith.
  • Rapid change in cultural mores has followed. Fifteen years ago, same sex marriage was not legal in any state and was opposed by a significant majority; today it is legal everywhere and supported by 64%.
  • In 1965, core blue-collar industries of manufacturing, construction and mining accounted for more than a third of American jobs. Today, less than one-in-seven. Job growth now driven by post-industrial occupations such as health care, education, business services and tourism. 
  • Growth concentrated in large metropolitan areas racing into the globalized, information economy.
  • Political parties have starkly divided over these trends. Republicans rely on what Ronald Brownstein calls a “coalition of restoration” that revolves around older, blue-collar, and evangelical Christian whites, mostly outside of urban areas, who feel most uneasy about these changes. Democrats mobilize a competing “coalition of transformation” centered on minority, millennial and college-educated white voters, who are mostly clustered in major metropolitan areas and the most comfortable with the changes.
  • 2016 presidential race widened divisions to new extremes, illuminating deep fractures along lines of race, generation, class and geography. 79% of Americans say 2016 election was uncivil. 79% also say uncivil comments by political leaders encourages greater incivility in society.
  • Americans blame three major factors for the erosion of civility: politicians (75%), internet/social media (69%), and news media (59%).

Evidence of historic division

  • 75% of Americans believe the lack of civility has reached a crisis level.
  • 71% of Americans believe our nation’s politics have reached a dangerous low point.
  • Most Americas (52%) are bothered “a great deal” by “politics being too divisive and there being a lack of respect for people who disagree with each other.”
  • Most people engaged in politics are afraid of the other side. Not just frustrated or angry, but afraid. (70% of Democrats; 62% of Republicans) 
  • On a thermometer of 0 to 100, Democrats’ and Republicans’ view of people in the other party is frigid at 24 and 23 respectively. 
  • As the partisan gap on major issues has exploded over the last decade, most people have just a few or no close friends in the opposing party. (64% of Democrats; 55% of Republicans) 
  • 56% see fewer things that bind Americans together today than in the past. 
  • 84% have personally experienced incivility.
  • 56% expect civility to get worse in the next few years. 

The Solution = Listen First

  1. Tell your friends to join the Listen First Movement! 
    (75% would be willing to set a good example by practicing civility; 66% would encourage friends, family members and colleagues to be civil; 36% want to see a national campaign to promote civility; 20% want a national day of civility) 
     
  2. Suggest a school, college or community for a Listen First chapter! 
    (49% recommend civility training in schools and colleges as 50% of parents say their children have experienced incivility at school)
     
  3. Bring Listen First Means Business to your workplace!
    (11% would start or join a civility group at their workplace)
     
  4. Use #ListenFirst to call out incivility! 
    (53% would speak up against incivility when they see it) 
     
  5. Invest in rebuilding civil discourse in America!
    (11% would donate money or time to support organizations that promote civility) 

It's not a pretty picture, but together we will bridge divides one Listen First Pledge and Conversation at a time. How can you help? 

Sources: Civility in America VII: The State of Civility survey; CNN: "America, a year later" by Ronald Brownstein; NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey; Pew Research Center surveys; Washington Post-University of Maryland survey

A Day in NYC with President Bush

As our Listen First movement gains steam, exciting new opportunities abound. Last week I was invited to attend an event hosted by George W. Bush in New York City. It was an honor to be with national leaders from both sides of the political aisle but even more encouraging to hear each of them speak to the need for Listen First.

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I heard President Bush decry “our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” observing that “argument turns too easily to animosity; disagreement escalates into dehumanization.”

First Lady Laura Bush echoed her husband’s sentiments, saying “we must teach our children how to listen, to show empathy, to show civility in the face of disagreement and to overcome malice and hate. And we must model that behavior ourselves.”

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright added that we must have “honest conversations… based on respect for other people’s views.” On the same day, President Obama decried “folks who… demonize people who have different ideas.”

Jeffrey Rosen, President and CEO of the National Constitution Center said, “When people respectfully listen to opposite points of view… that itself is an exercise in citizenship of the highest kind.”

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At his first inaugural address in 2001, President Bush said, “Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment; it is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos.” Last week he told those of us gathered in New York that America today needs organizations to champion civil discourse. Listen First Project and our Listen First Coalition of organizations coast to coast are answering that call. Will you?

With real conversations towards increased respect and understanding, we will restore relationships, build bridges, and mend the frayed fabric of our society. As foreign adversaries seek to foment division among us, that’s hope and change that will make America great again.

Listen First after Charlottesville—How we can save America

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On the morning of Saturday August 12th, I was driving to Charlotte to meet with partners in my Listen First Coalition when I heard that violence had broken out at a rally in Charlottesville. I arrived at Dish in Plaza Midwood to have lunch with Molly Barker and Ann Crehore of The Red Boot Way and Patrick Redmond, one of my vice presidents. We had an exhilarating conversation on how to rebuild civil discourse in America and were blessed by our server Yolanda Pender's vibrant cheer. But behind Yoyo's smiling face, I could see a horrific tragedy unfolding on the television. As we grasped the magnitude of what was happening just a few hours north, conversation turned to how we should respond. Supporters of Listen First were texting me for a reaction. What should I say? After lunch, I sat in the parking lot of Dish and wrote my first Listen First response to the tragedy.

The vile hatred and violence in Charlottesville was a disgrace to the United States of America. We were witnessing not only the now-common vilifying of opponents but physical violence and lives lost—casualties of the incivility that is destroying the fabric of American society. This internal scourge on our nation threatens the future of the United States because a healthy and vibrant society cannot survive amidst such attacks on the humanity of our fellow Americans.

My initial statement elicited hundreds of comments and shares on Facebook. Among the most popular were a man calling Obama a sub-human terroristic traitor and a woman citing sadistic Trump "Republiklan" traitors. One sober-minded commenter asked, “how can you read this Listen First post and immediately start blaming others?” Good question. Another said that based on the comments there's no hope for Listen First so I should find a new mission.

I woke up the next morning feeling that a stronger, and much more difficult, statement was needed. Charlottesville put in stark relief that abject racism and anti-Semitism is still very real and repugnant. Unless we fully understand that these views still exist in the United States of America and confront them head on, we will not mend the frayed fabric of our society. I spent the 5-hour drive from Charlotte to my childhood hometown of Ahoskie consulting with my leadership team. We agreed that it was time to draw a hard line around 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 drew the line at stating another person or group of persons is less human or less valued due to an immutable characteristic or any other personal trait. So as with physical violence, abject racism or anti-Semitism voids the privilege of a Listen First response. While I would like to gain an understanding of that perspective in order to eradicate it and heal our land, I 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.

But let's also challenge ourselves—despite the abhorrent views and actions of abject racists—to respect their humanity as well. I know; I don't like the sound of that either. It doesn't seem fair. But no matter how right we think we are, and may be, when we start thinking another person is less human or less valued—for any reason—are we not falling into the same bottomless pit of hate that will destroy this nation?

Listen First is meant to be for everyone. When we alienate a segment of society, when we convey that someone's perspective is not worthy of being heard, we push extremist elements farther into the fringes of society—allowing them to fester and become more virulent among other ostracized populations. They do not go away; they sit and wait for opportunity, for a signal that it's safe to speak up. This is a very real danger. We just saw the consequences. But the solution is most certainly not to accept every belief as valid or equivocate on basic human, and American, values. There is no moral equivalence between abject racist and those standing to oppose abject racist.

Unfortunately, Listen First is the last thing most people have wanted to do in the aftermath of Charlottesville. As evidenced by vicious comments on my posts, many of us quickly closed ranks in our familiar corners defensively pointing to facts—real or alternative—that supported our preferred narrative of the traumatic weekend. We took cues from our national leaders on how to respond and spin events to suit our political purpose. Too few people thought for themselves and took an honest, empathetic look at the event—messy and complex as it was.

Upon arriving in Ahoskie, 24 hours after the tragedy in Charlottesville, I visited the 78-year-old black woman I consider my second mom—Zenora. We mourned Charlottesville and talked about race relations in my old hometown. Zenora shared that even now she finds blacks and whites sitting in different sections at the Bojangles’. To Zenora, such division is utterly nonsensical. "White and black are the same. You skin us and we're the same inside. If we bleed, we bleed the same. We all need the same things to live." Yet here we are—with deadly race protests and self-segregation at Bojangles’.

We can keep behaving like this. In a free country, there's no one to stop us. But we'll sacrifice the heart and soul of America, and we'll destroy our society.

I want to see a different story unfold, one of restoring humanity and civility to our conversations and our protests. Listen First has the power to restore relationships, build bridges, and mend the frayed fabric of society. As each one of us individually pledge to Listen First, we can rebuild civil discourse—one Listen First Conversation at a time. And we believe the first chapter of that story should be written in Charlottesville—with a major Listen First Event. A humbling list of national influencers and local leaders have agreed to participate, and we'll be releasing details soon. We've already launched Listen First chapters at UVA and in the Charlottesville community.

Our future depends on turning this story around, now. But before we go to Charlottesville and many other communities across the country growing the Listen First movement, I'm starting back in my hometown, at the Bojangles’ in Ahoskie. Where will you start?

-Pearce Godwin, Founder & CEO

Please help us realize the vision of a major Listen First in Charlottesville event!

If you want to change the world

I've always wanted to change the world. That doesn't make me particularly special. A lot of us Millennials want to change the world, to break the paradigm, to make a real difference. But how? And when?

After several exciting years in Washington, DC, I developed a strong sense that I wanted to do something moresomething bigger than myself. It's that desire that sent my wife Chrissy and me to Uganda, Africa for six months with Samaritan's Purse in 2013. That experience forever changed me and my perspective on life.

We settled back home in North CarolinaChrissy pursuing a PhD in global health, me beginning a new job. But I still didn't know what I wanted to do when I grow up. I felt like the Uganda experience would lead to something more and harbored a nagging sense that I should be making a bigger impact but for the time being, I would settle into a normal job and wait to discover my path. 

There was one thing born of my Africa experience that remained present. It was a new passion for civil discourse, a burning desire to see us listen to each other, especially to those with whom we disagreeto better communicate, respect, and understand across division. This simple idea first articulated on an overnight bus ride from Uganda to Kenya then shared with millions of newspaper readers across America had become a nonprofitListen First Project. I was proud of LFP, and I invested what little time I could in the margins to its growth over four years.

Still, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do when I grow up.

Then things started moving fast. Over the first half of this year, I developed rich relationships with many visionary leaders across the country engaged on similar missions, and I started business school on the weekends. I'd always wanted to go to business school and knew it would be a great experience. However, I could never have imagined that not only would I meet the most diversely talented and inspirational group of people of my life but that all 45 of them would join my leadership team to elevate Listen First Project to new heights. The distance between what I was doing in my normal job and what I could be doing with Listen First grew greater and greater.

I just needed the courage to step out of the boat. Then tragedy struck Charlottesville. The hot rhetoric that inspired the founding of Listen First Project in 2013 had escalated to mob violence. There were now casualties of our incivility; it looked like our country was falling apart.

Listen First Project could no longer occupy only the margins of my life. The need and opportunity were too great. So I dedicated myself full-time to the Listen First mission. 

Over the time I had considered taking that risk, someone insisted that I read Make Your Bed by Admiral William McRaven who himself changed the world by overseeing the killing of Osama bin Laden and commanding all U.S. Special Operations forces. Several of Admiral McRaven's lessons for changing the world jumped off the pages and into my personal decision.

It takes a team of good people to get you to your destination in life. You cannot paddle the boat alone.
The obstacle course is going to beat you every time unless you start taking some risks.
Those who live in fear of failure or hardship will never achieve their potential. Without daring greatly, you will never know what is truly possible in your life. 
With courage, nothing and nobody can stand in your way. Without it, others will define your path forward. With it, you can accomplish any goal. 
You must rise above your fears, your doubts, and your fatigue. No matter how dark it gets, you must complete the mission. 
The power of one person to unite a group, the power of one person to inspire those around him, to give them hope. Hope is the most powerful force in the universe. With hope you can inspire nations to greatness. Sometimes all it takes is one person to make a difference. 

I finally know what I want to do when I grow up: I want to change the world. I guess deep down I knew that all along. But now, thanks to the confluence of experience, relationship, and opportunity, I have a much better sense of what that looks like. 

Our mission is to encourage conversation towards increased respect and understanding. We inspire hope for a brighter future and individual behavior change one Listen First Pledge and Conversation at a time. 

Listen First has the power to restore relationships, build bridges and mend the frayed fabric of society. I absolutely believe it can change the world. And I’m not the only one. A longtime supporter recently posted this deeply humbling sentiment: "Often we hear that 'one person can change the world' but dismiss it as a utopian idea. Pearce is doing just that." I'm not worthy of such kind words, but maybe one day I will be, and you will be too. Together, we can change the world.
---
Pearce Godwin, Founder & CEO of Listen First Project

SUPPORT LISTEN FIRST

Going all in before it's too late

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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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? 

Please help us spread the word and turn the tide.

Listening for a change,

Pearce
Founder & CEO
Listen First Project

I Got Shouted Down for Listening First

 Listen First Project Founder and CEO Pearce Godwin (left) stands in front of protesters and suggests civil conversation. Credit: CBS News

Listen First Project Founder and CEO Pearce Godwin (left) stands in front of protesters and suggests civil conversation. Credit: CBS News

On Tuesday night, I drove over to Chapel Hill where a major clash of protesters was rumored around the Silent Sam Confederate statue. I arrived at 5:30pm and left at 2am. The 8.5 hours in between were some I'll never forget.

The nearly 1,000 protesters were calling for the removal of the Confederate statue. There were only a handful of counter-protesters in support of Silent Sam. There was fear and online chatter that white supremacists groups would descend on campus, leading the school chancellor to warn students of serious danger in the wake of Charlottesville's tragedy. But there were no white supremacists this night, no repeat of Charlottesville.

Black Lives Matter and Antifa activists alongside other concerned students voiced a chorus of chants for most of the evening. But things got out of hand when one of their own was arrested for masking his face, which had been declared illegal. An organized protest quickly descended into a chaotic, anti-police mob. See my first-hand video of the lengthy clash with policeviewed by more than 10,000 on our Facebook pagebelow. At the peak of hostilities, protesters were literally thrown aside as they attempted to stop a police van from transporting the arrested activist off campus. Previously hidden combat officers came out of nearby buildings, streets were shut down, and more protesters were arrested. In response, protesters screamed in the face of officers and frequently chanted "cops and the Klan go hand in hand." It was not pretty. And it certainly wasn't civil. 

Following the confrontation with police, protesters returned to the Silent Sam statue and sat on the ground along the perimeter. With tensions seemingly calmed and everyone catching a breath, I saw an opportunity to engage in a Listen First Conversation with the group as I have many times with other large audiences. It seemed like a good idea. I was wrong. 

I stood against the fence in front of the crowd of protesters and introduced the Listen First idea, inviting a civil conversation (picture above). The response? Applause from some but jeers from many others:

"There's nothing to talk about here!"
"Are you deaf? We've been chanting how we feel the whole time!"
"You're not allowed to be neutral!"
"Sit down white boy!"
"If you want to talk to somebody, go talk to them!"

While this was discouraging and, in my opinion, detrimental to their cause, I took the suggestion and went to the other side of the quad to find them. Them was a handful of Silent Sam supporters keeping to themselves on the other side of the protected space. And them happened to be far more interested in conversation than the mass of protesters who'd shouted me down. That said, several anti-statue demonstrators tracked me down to apologize for the uncivil and embarrassing behavior of their comrades, saying "that was really messed up how they yelled at you." And some of them made a point to join me on the other side to gain a better understanding of their opponents' perspective. This is where the night started looking up from my Listen First perspective.

A funny thing happened as the night wore on and the bulk of protesters scattered—Us vs Them became Me and You. Suddenly, passionate activists on opposite sides of the Silent Sam debate found themselves in close proximity to one another. One by one, they came to the remarkable realization that the "other side" is largely comprised of human beings not so unlike themselves, but with a very different perspective. Rich Listen First Conversations ensued. I was feeling great.

Then two guys showed up wielding baseball bats.

The levity was sucked out of the air as we saw a couple tough guys approaching with helmets and bats. They looked angry. They were ready for a fight. The police came to attention as we braced ourselves for trouble. Heated words were exchanged before folks retreated into their respective corners again. Now this was an interesting challenge. But hey, it couldn't go any worse than my first attempt at inciting civil discourse.

I walked over to engage our new bat-wielding friends, Webster and Eric from Fort Bragg. They seemed nice enough in their matching American flag capes. I enjoyed learning what brought them to Silent Samthey wanted to "protect property and their brothers in blue" if any trouble was afoot. 

I invited Webster to walk with me over to the now-small group of anti-statue protesters for a little chat. He gladly came along and stuck out his hand to greet each person one by one. Tensions eased. While Webster engaged with his new acquaintances on the matter of Silent Sam, I kept an eye on Eric. He seemed much more comfortable hanging back, with his bat and new police friend. But finally, I coaxed him over and into the group. He graciously took my suggestion to leave his bat with the officer.

Nobody said anything. Some of these students had literally started crying earlier when they saw an angry Eric coming with his bat. So I broke the ice. "Eric, I think you made some folks feel uncomfortable showing up here with a bat, what was that about?" We were off to the races. Wide ranging Listen First Conversations ensued for the next two hours, culminating in the picture below. And hugs. Yes, hugs. 

See, here's the thing. We can all get hyped up within our tribe and lose our sense of humanity, nevermind civility. When we're in the mindset of Us vs Them, there's not much space or tolerance for listening. But when we turn down the temperature a few notches, muster a little courage and humility, and approach our ideological opponents as individuals, amazing things can happen in the Me and You.

And as each one of us focus more on the Me and You instead of the easier, more comfortable Us vs Them, we can restore civil discourse in Americaone unlikely Listen First Conversation at a time.

 Once the adrenaline wore off and much of the crowd dispersed, Listen First Project Founder and CEO Pearce Godwin (back right) convened protesters from opposite sides who engaged in rich Listen First Conversations.

Once the adrenaline wore off and much of the crowd dispersed, Listen First Project Founder and CEO Pearce Godwin (back right) convened protesters from opposite sides who engaged in rich Listen First Conversations.

An inside look at the clash between student protesters and police around the Silent Sam Confederate statue on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill. Video taken by Listen First Project founder and CEO Pearce Godwin.

Grappling with Charlottesville and Racist Extremism

If you have not yet seen this footage from within the white nationalist activists before, during and after the Charlottesville rally, you need to stop what you're doing and watch it. In 2017 America, abject racism and anti-Semitism is very real and repugnant. This video is likely to make you nauseous, but unless we fully understand that these views still exist in the United States of America and confront them head on, we will not mend the frayed fabric of our society.

As the leader of the Listen First movement, I've been grappling with what unfolded in Charlottesville for the past week and heard from many passionate people around the country. My leadership team and I spent last Sunday discussing the most appropriate response.

Listen First is for everyone. When we alienate a segment of society, when we convey that someone's perspective is not worthy of being heard, we push extremist elements farther into the fringes of society--allowing them to fester and become more virulent among other ostracised populations. They do not go away; they sit and wait for opportunity, for a signal that it's safe to speak up. This is a very real danger. We just saw the consequences. But the solution is most certainly not to accept every belief as valid or equivocate on basic human, and American, values. While there was violence and hate from many directions in Charlottesville, there is no moral equivalence between abject racist and those standing to oppose abject racist. To suggest otherwise is cowardly and wrong.

The Listen First Pledge includes prioritizing respect and understanding in conversation. But it's not always that simple is it? Are we to Listen First to someone espousing the views illuminated by this VICE News video? As with physical violence, abject racism or anti-Semitism voids the privilege of a Listen First response. While I would like to gain an understanding of that perspective in order to eradicate it 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. But let's also challenge ourselves--despite the abhorrent views and actions of some abject racists--to respect their humanity as well. I know; I don't like the sound of that either. It doesn't seem fair. But no matter how right we think we are, and may be, when we start thinking another person is less human or less valued--for any reason--are we not falling into the same bottomless pit of hate that will destroy this nation?

Listen First Project wants to write a 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. Please help us make that happen!

Our future depends on turning this story around, now. -PearceGodwin

Listen First Reflection on the Charlottesville Tragedy

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 ideasa 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 Charlottesvillethe latest in a string of overheated clashes across the countryor 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 Charlottesvillewith a major Listen First Conversation Event.

Imagine individuals who have significant disagreementson any issue of interestpledging 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 pledgeto 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 timeconversations 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."

Charlottesville: A story of terror or turnaround? Up to you.

No matter 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. It is not what has made us the most successful country on Earth. 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.

We want to host a huge Listen First Conversation Event in Charlottesville. Imagine individuals who have significant disagreements 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!

Will you choose this turnaround story for Charlottesville and every other community in America?

Our country needs this. However, these events are expensive, and we need your financial support to make it possible. Would you consider making a $5, $10, $25, or $50 donation towards helping us host a Listen First Conversation Event in Charlottesville? 

Listen First has the power to restore relationships, build bridges, and mend the frayed fabric of American society. That difficult process of rebuilding should start in Charlottesville.

Please help us make it happen now!

Pearce
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Pearce Godwin, Listen First Project Founder & CEO, released the following statements in response to the tragedy in Charlottesville:

Charlottesville hatred and violence a disgrace to the United States of America

The limits of the Listen First ideal as it relates to violence & racism

The limits of the Listen First ideal as it relates to violence & racism

The Listen First Pledge is to fully listen to and consider another's views before sharing your own, to prioritize respect and understanding in conversation, and to encourage others to do the same.

The most challenging question with which I'm often confronted: Is there ever a point where Listen First doesn't apply, when we shouldn't listen first? This question has come up again in the aftermath of the tragedy in Charlottesville.

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.

We throw around charges of "racism" and "hate" with reckless abandon at people who hold different views than our own. Those words have lost concrete meaning in our overheated, uncivil discourse. But they are real, and they tragically still exist. Certainly not everyone involved in a discussion or protest related to race is a racist but sadly some are.

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. It is not ok. 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.  -Pearce Godwin

Charlottesville hatred and violence a disgrace to the United States of America

The vile hatred and violence in Charlottesville is a disgrace to the United States of America. In 2013, I said that if we hope for a healthy, prosperous nation we cannot continue to demagogue our neighbors because they see the world differently -- suggesting that not only their opinions but they themselves are somehow less. Tragically, we now see not only demagoguery but physical violence and lives lost -- casualties of the incivility that is destroying the fabric of American society.

Hatred and fear are increasingly drowning out humanity and friendship. Basic decency has given way to demagoguery. Rancor has replaced relationships. We have become so blinded by the polarization and tribalization of American society that we often cannot see another person as anything but an ideology to be despised and defeated.

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.

Please join the Listen First movement to restore civil discourse one conversation at a time -- conversations that prioritize respect and understanding. Listening has the power to restore relationships, build bridges, and mend the frayed fabric of American society.

I pray we unite to move beyond slander and violence to seek common ground. This must stop. Our future depends on it.  -Pearce Godwin

Independence Day 2017

The United States of America is at a crossroads. Hatred and fear are increasingly drowning out humanity and friendship. Basic decency has given way to demagoguery. Rancor has replaced relationships.

This is not "those people's" problem. It's my problem. And it's your problem. 

We have become so blinded by the polarization and tribalization of American society that we often cannot see another person as anything but an ideology to be despised and defeated. But by listening to one another, especially to those with whom we disagree, we can restore civil discourse – one conversation at a time.

This Independence Day, may we all rise above the vitriol and Listen First.

Happy 4th of July!  -Pearce Godwin

Reflections on why we malign each other

I was enraged this morning by back-to-back stories on the news: a noose hung in DC's African-American museum and the N-word graffitied on the entrance to LeBron's home. The flesh of man is so insecure and the heart so wicked that we will malign other races, religions, parties, and people groups of any kind whom we can see as "other" in a sad attempt to make ourselves feel superior, and a little more secure.

As I reflect now, the truth is that I shouldn't be shocked. Scripture explains that "from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts." "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick." Yet, "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" that we may "put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander."  -Pearce Godwin