The Art of Listening

donald trump on staten island

The other day I called an old friend of mine. We hadn’t talked for a while and I had just finished a podcast episode from The Art of Manliness called “Building Your Band of Brothers” with guest Stephen Mansfield about the importance of male relationships. Inspired, I gave him a call. I can’t remember how it slipped out, but I made kind of an open-ended remark about Trump — maybe this is something a lot of us do, toss out a joke to see how someone else takes it because of how polarized we have all become. He didn’t respond the way I thought he would.

“Trump’s kicking ass,” he said.

Well, where do I go from there? We went back and forth a little. He’d say something in favor of Trump, and I would kind of give a “Yeah, but also…” I could tell, and not that I was trying, that I wasn’t going to change his mind. And because I already had made up my mind on the Muslim ban and the Women’s March and Trump’s treatment of the media, he wasn’t really going to change my mind.

Probably the most important thing we discussed was the division of America. As Trump has been blowing through Bics signing executive orders, I found myself wondering what Trump voters were thinking of how things were going — because surely at this point, even they had been alarmed, maybe not dissuaded, but at least alarmed.

From what I’ve gathered so far, many aren’t. I don’t think it’s because they’re racists or they want to see the whole world shook up. I think Trump voters are content because they’re getting a different — I can’t say right or wrong — version. It seems to me that the biggest problem we have in America is that we have two Americas happening simultaneously. Each side is part of a different reality. The right is consuming news from the right, whether it’s Fox or their like-minded Facebook friends. The left is consuming news from the left, whether it’s CNN or their like-minded Twitter friends.

I grew up a Republican, and not necessarily in a politically active family, but still a Republican. I never pulled my Republican membership; I simply got pushed toward the middle and then when the middle disappeared, I ended up somewhere on the left. Today I have an allergic reaction to pro-Trump twitter accounts. They cause my head to shake violently from side to side — when I say pro-Trump, I mean like PRO-Trump, like frogs and red hats and Tomi Lahren and swastikas, not like poor misguided grandparents. The other night I forced myself to scroll through some random pro-Trump dude’s Twitter feed. I shook my head the whole time. I forced myself to do it, and I think that was the first step.

Nobody is talking to each other. Nobody is seeking truth. Everybody is seeking confirmation: “Holy cow, that Trump am I right?” “Heck yeah dude, like what?” high five. Everybody is convinced that those on the other side are wrong, just simply wrong. If you haven’t found out by now, here’s a secret: Nobody gives a damn what you think, at least not if they disagree with you.

In my English 2010 class, we’re talking about argument and how when we think of argument, we think of Tomi Lahren vs. Trevor Noah of the Daily Show. Our textbook, Writing Arguments by John D. Ramage, John C. Beam, and June Johnson, says that argument is “not a shouting match on cable news but a small group of reasonable people seeking the best solution to a problem.” Wow. Wouldn’t that be nice?

So, as I said, my friend and I went back and forth. He’d bring up something, and I’d weigh in. I’d bring up something, and he’d weigh in. He still feels Trump is kicking ass, and I’m still scared for the future of America. But at least the two of us conveyed that we haven’t attempted to understand the other side all that much. That’s the next step, a very big step.

To quote the textbook again, “The good person’s duty, Socrates believed, was not to win an argument but to pursue higher Truth.” We live in a world absolved of absolute truth. The only truth we, as friends or even as a nation, can have is a shared truth, the mixture of ideas and beliefs with those we inhabit spaces with. We never look back on history, in those instances of one group silencing another because there’s was the only right way, with any sort of peace.

My challenge is — as painful as it may be — is to first admit that you have a problem, which is that you’re not listening. Talk to those you disagree with and get your news from the right and the left and stitch together truth. This doesn’t mean we give up our beliefs, but we do open ourselves up to the very minute possibility that we are not right about everything. Let’s show that we care about people more than politics; when that’s no longer true, we’re in real trouble.

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