Belief is More Powerful than Fact

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The Original Listening Project

Thanks to the internet and social media, we all have a voice and thus a more democratic (if virtual) town square than we have ever had before.  Our worlds are bigger and more exciting, and our participation makes the world more dynamic and more pluralistic.  Each of us mark the world with posts and clicks and and likes.  We read, and we react.  We comment and we reply to comments.  It’s thrilling to be so involved, and it’s also exhausting, overwhelming, alienating. Maybe because of this alienation or maybe because without some kind or organization, the world is too overwhelming to understand, we have, concurrent with making our voice heard,  separated our country into us and them.   We regularly use the pronoun they as if the other were all one mass of uninformed, homogenous, flab.  We call them “Liberals” or “Trump Supporters.” They infuriate us.  They are ill-informed, uneducated, bubble-dwellers.  If only they knew the facts, they wouldn’t be such small-minded sheep.  So we use our voice to inform. We post opinions with numbers and links.  We cite reputable sources. We point out their source is fake news. They do the same back in our direction. We respond. They respond but with more vitriol. Unpleasantness ensues. Our attempt to inform ends in more division and confusion.  We wonder if we should stop participating in the public discourse about politics and meaning.  “I don’t post about politics,” we say.  “I unfriended Uncle Ralph because I couldn’t stand his posts,” we say.  We watch the extremists from both ends come to blows, engage in violence.  We are starting to understand that solving problems by exchanging facts and opinions will never work. It won’t.  This is because belief is more powerful than fact.

Isn’t that odd and disorienting to learn?  Confirmation bias is stronger than reason.  This is true of all socialized humans, not just the unreasonable ones, not just conspiracy theorists.   Each of us cares more about our personal views than a shared understanding of the world.  How, then, does one engage with a person whose ideas are so different from one’s own?  How will we understand them?  The essential and radical word here is understand.  To affect change, to heal the divide in our country, we must enter relationships with the intent to understand instead of the intent to inform.

I hope you’ll participate in the project!


Listening to Understand

I didn’t  sleep the night of Tuesday, November 8.  On Tuesday afternoon, I went to vote,  so sure of the election result, so certain I understood my country and its people.  By midnight on Tuesday, the results had me sad, confused and existentially afraid. I was afraid for the future of my planet. Committed to environmental protection and solutions to climate change, I was suddenly hopeless and overwhelmed. How can the earth withstand neglect when she is already at risk from wounds? How can the earth withstand more plunder? And what do we do about the thoughtless hate that seems released on the country and world?

I had been living in an echo-chamber. In my immediate family, in my social circles,on my Facebook page, we all voted the same way.  We had diverse backgrounds, but we shared news sources, and we shared beliefs.  On Tuesday night, I watched as Facebook friends unfriended people who voted differently. I saw posts of frustration, disillusion, anger, commitment to violence, name calling.  I turned off all my media.

When I pulled my sleepless but electric body from the bed on Wednesday morning, I did so with this idea: I will commit myself to kindness and courage. I will check every decision I make for kindness and courage.

I made a decision to call my sister, to FaceTime her, to see her face and listen to her talk.  We had essentially been estranged. We have different interests. We work together for the good of our parents, but we don’s speak regularly. We don’t share common friends or interests. I knew here husband supported Trump in the election. I assumed she did, but I never engaged her on the topic. I never talked politics with her. Honestly: I didn’t want the aggravation.  I thought it would be better not to interact with her on the subject of politics.

But on Wednesday, November 9, I wanted to understand. I wanted to understand and see the world. I didn’t want my relationships to be mediated or manipulated. I wanted to interact with my neighbors, the storekeepers— and with my estranged family.

My sister kindly agreed to a face-time meeting with me.  I asked her how she was feeling and what she was thinking about the election.  She told me.  She told me things I didn’t know about her feelings and perspectives. I sat still and watched her face and listened and understood what she was saying. Some things she said made my face fill up with blood and my heart rate elevate, but I sat and listened. Then I blubbered and ranted, and she sat and listened to me. We didn’t try to change one another’s minds. We had nothing to convince each other of. We just listened to one another.

It was transformative. Now I knew the perspective of another person outside my circle of progressive writers and environmentalists. I heard her, and I understand what she said. I could think of her voice when my friends talked about their fears and values.

We decided to codify a way for others to listen to each other.  It seems there is a real need for Americans of different political views to tell their stories.

This is a listening project. This is a project rooted in story telling.

There is no political agenda to this project. We do not encourage arguing. We believe facts and opinions have lost their currency in communication.

We invite you to find an American with different opinions from your own.  We invite you to listen to that person. And, if possible, ask the person to listen to you.