Hear, hear!: How the simple act of listening builds democracy

Kevin Shinn on pathways to understanding others, and how listening is not equivalent to compromising one's values.


There’s an old proverb that states some timely wisdom for today: A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind.

This advice is attributed to Solomon, thought to be the wisest man who ever lived. You would think that he had a crystal ball and could peer into the year 2020, and was speaking directly about the role of Twitter as a major thread in our current social fabric.

I use Twitter as well as other social media accounts. I have to limit my engagement significantly, especially when political monologue starts trending. Because what I’m left with is anything but dialogue. No one out there is asking for my opinion, because no one really cares for my opinion. It’s just a bunch of opinions being discharged with very little understanding as a result.

In response to this clutter, I’ve tried a little experiment. And I would like to offer it to you here, for your entertainment and enjoyment. I do this in face-to-face conversation, not online, because I like the reactions it creates and it can quickly devolve online. 

The question I pose is this: 

Can you articulate, without any reference or annoyed reaction to your opponent’s position or track record, a clear and positive statement of your ideology?

I find this is a very difficult question for folks to answer. I expect it’s because it’s so easy to slip into a place where my commonly held ideals and beliefs are only in reaction to what I disapproved of or what makes me angry, not out of what I believe to be true, right and just.

The main rule of my little game is to restrict my role in the conversation to only asking and listening.  This is not a time for me to spout off and start an argument. My goal is understanding, not in revealing my own mind. It’s amazing how many opinions are formed out of anger and not out of genuine conviction.

There’s a role for anger. It can alert me to injustice, but anger can never be my motive for trying to engage in social change. Anger is my watchdog, not my lead dog. Anger informs me when something is wrong, but my call to action is always from a higher consideration.

Listening is not equivalent to compromise.  

It’s this mindset that keeps me from going crazy as I try to discern what’s going on in politics today and determine the role I can play as an average, ordinary citizen. 

I want to make a positive difference. I don’t want to be guilty of contributing to the problem. 

A chef, writer, and entrepreneur, Kevin is a thought leader in Lincoln’s cultural, economic, and civic life. No matter the endeavor, Kevin finds he comes back to the same main pursuits: Setting the table, having important conversations, and seeing ideas become reality. For more Civic Nebraska Writers Group columns, click here.

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Sara W Bharwani
4 years ago

Great article. Thank you.


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