Listen First, Vote Second 2016

The below commentary was written by LFP Founder Pearce Godwin during the 2016 election calling on Americans to rise above the vitriol of the presidential campaign, one conversation at a time. The message was published in newspapers across the United States and accompanied a grassroots campaign earning thousands of LFP Pledge signatures. 

The 2016 campaign season has taken America to new lows of civility in discourse. Never has our national conversation been more poisoned by divisive and demagogic rhetoric. Never has our need to stop and listen to one another, especially to those with whom we disagree, been more apparent.

CNN reports that 78% of voters feel America is more deeply divided on major issues than it has been in the past. It’s only by listening to one another that we will bridge the divides that plague us, yet from candidates to voters, we’re failing to do so. The rancorous polarization now gripping American culture seems to have made listening an endangered practice.

The presidential campaign has been characterized by insolence among the candidates and a fomenting of fears, resentment and animosity among voters. As communities feeling marginalized on both sides of the political spectrum seek to be heard, there’s been a lot of shouting with too little listening, much less understanding. Social media feeds are littered with unbridled rage, while friends and family members are unable to exchange ideas without combusting. Political rallies have even turned violent.

Have we lost all sense of decency and sobriety in our discourse?

The interminable pictures of discord across the country are distressing, but they don’t tell the whole story. There is hope, even where you’d least expect it. Listen First Project partnered with Urban Confessional and The Listening Center to promote listening outside the Republican and Democratic national conventions. Our volunteers in Cleveland and Philadelphia found many people in those hyper political environments anxious to engage in respectful conversations, to be heard but also to listen.

Thousands of people across the country have signed the Listen First pledge this year – committing to fully listen to and consider another person’s views before sharing their own, prioritize respect and understanding in conversation, and encourage others to do the same. A Listen First Project poll found that 57 percent of voters believe that if people with different viewpoints listened to and considered the other side first it would make a major or even huge impact on our politics and society.

The restoration of civil discourse starts with each of us as individuals, one conversation at a time. When we begin listening to one another and expecting the same of our leaders, the tone will change. We can rise above the shameful vitriol and violence of the 2016 campaign. We can move beyond slander and seek common ground, with new respect and appreciation for the other side.

Regardless of which side you’re on, let’s commit to listen first, vote second this year. And let’s continue listening as new issues arise over the years to come.

We’ll be stronger together when we make America listen again.

Pearce Godwin, Founder and President of Listen First Project
October 2016