Are we really listening to each other?

During a lifetime in the news business, so much of my focus has been on what someone said. Comments often make news, especially in today’s climate where provocative words are more likely to break into the news cycle.

Inflammatory statements often breed a harsh response, and off we go until the verbal sparring runs its course or another maddening comment is made, and it starts all over.

I plead guilty to being a party to it all, more often than I would like to admit.

Last week on Talkline I agreed with a guest that the testimony of former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci would get “interesting” when he was questioned by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

I am conditioned to believe that when Greene opens her mouth, fireworks will follow.

So much of what we see and hear today in the public domain is performative; It is there for the show and the attention it generates. NewsNation’s Chris Stirewalt called it the Media Rage Machine in his book “Broken News: Why the Media Rage Machine Divides America and How to Fight Back.”

But later in the show last Monday I interviewed Chris Gosses, president of Rainbow Pride of West Virginia and the Rainbow Pride Center, about the celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride events in the state this month.

Gosses piqued my interest because of a piece he wrote in the Charleston Gazette-Mail last week. Here is what he said:

“As we fight for positive change and ask for public social growth, we must give folks a chance to grow and change too. It’s not always an overnight endeavor. Stay consistent, stay vigilant, stay visible,” he wrote.

“Have conversations with folks who see the world differently than you, find common ground while still prioritizing your safety, your health and your freedoms,” Gosses said.

That is good advice whether you are talking about LGBTQ issues, politics, religion and even sports.

Growth and change are essential to reaching the best version of ourselves, and the more people who engage in that often challenging exercise, the more the world around us improves. As Gosses said, that growth comes from conversations with people who have a different world view.

Those conversations do not have to lead to agreement, but they often contribute to understanding. That cannot happen without really listening, and by that I mean making the sincere effort to truly hear what the other person is saying.

And listening does not have to passive. A good listener will follow up with questions aimed at further understanding. A poor listener just waits for their opportunity to retort with a talking point. I have some work to do on that front myself.

Dr. Jonathan Westover, an author and professor of organizational leadership at Utah Valley University, wrote that by really listening to others we show that we are “seeking understanding, showing compassion and demonstrating empathy.”

The current political and social discourse is excessively harsh, unrelenting and unforgiving, and we wonder when it will stop or at least cool down. The answer starts, not at the top of the information pyramid, but at the bottom where all of us live, work and play. It starts, as Gosses said, with us really listening to those who see the world differently and searching for common ground.

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at [email protected].