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“First 100 Days” Community CAfe: From Listening to Understanding

While talking with others can be hard, listening can be even harder.

In the wake of the last election cycle, it became all too easy to surround ourselves with people that share our opinions. It’s simple to have conversations with people we agree with, and it’s comforting to feel validated. Unfortunately, easy discussions aren’t usually the most beneficial ones.

As The Academy Life’s editorial board wrote earlier this year, we need to promote discussion. To overcome the serious political divides that have sprouted in our community, we must talk to each other. Only through understanding can we bridge the gap.

While people have certainly been talking in the last few months, it’s hard to say whether they’ve been hearing what the other side has to say. With such a touchy and personal topic, conversations that are meant to be civil can quickly devolve into heated debates. When people start persuading instead of listening, more harm can be done than good.

The Community CAfe held on February 3 was an exercise in listening.

With the theme, “The First 100 Days,” a panel of eight students, half supporting and half opposing the new presidential leadership, explained their positions to a crowd of students and teachers of unprecedented size for a Community CAfe. The catch? No one could argue with them; no one could challenge them while they spoke: everyone just had to listen.

“Sometimes we have really deep disagreements with someone,” said Mr. Leet. “But try to hear the humanity behind the words. This is a very close-knit community of very deeply divided opinions on some of these things, and to recognize that and to take the time to listen to each other—and just listen—instead of trying to win or debate seemed like a good first step.”

Reducing people to nothing more than their political views is the simpler route. I’ve been guilty of it before. But there’s something about seeing your friends explaining their beliefs—even when they might challenge your own—that makes you want to try to understand where they’re coming from. People are more than politics, and that’s what the CAfe tried to get us to hear.

Still, with such a touchy subject, there was bound to be some opposition. When the floor was opened up for questions, Leet hoped for questions that would “help clarify where someone was coming from. They wouldn’t be challenging questions. They would be clarifying questions.” While there was definitely a mixture of both types during the Q&A session, he knew they had to be included in the discussion.

“There’s no way to better understand someone than to ask questions, so there has to be a baseline level of trust in the room that no one’s out to get anybody. This is how we build trust,” said Leet.

What’s encouraging is that people are already asking about the next panel. Whether it’s a continuation of this topic or has an entirely new focus, we hope this means people are becoming more open to the idea of listening.

And with that, we may be one step closer to understanding.


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August 18, 2019