Our problem is that we really don’t listen to one another.

We are in stuck in a period of tension, conflicting views, fear, confusion — a product of merging different perspectives and different struggles, all while trying to find some common ground. Yet, so often we choose not to listen. It is not only in the form of ignoring the collective plea surrounding the major problems facing our world, but it is that most of us are aware of the weight of those topics. This inability to listen emerges in our everyday interactions with one another. That is, not solely in the topics evoking high levels of sensitivity that are covered on the news, but almost anything that could possible cause a differing of opinion.

A conversation that begins something like this:

“I love the winter so much, the snow is beautiful,” says the girl sitting next to me in lecture, while she looks out the window.

I’ve instantly stopped listening.  I don’t agree. I hate the winter with all my heart and constantly ask myself how I’ve survived living in Michigan my entire life. Her opinion has not only provoked me to want to express my own, but also, has encouraged me to ignore whatever she has said about the “beauty” of the snow. I’m aware she’s speaking about why she loves the winter, but I have drowned the sound of her voice with the booming sound of my own thoughts about just how wrong I think she is.

I have purposely chosen quite a superficial example, not for the sake of belittling my point, but instead to display that our tendencies to avoid listening to one another transfer into all facets of life, whether important or not.

We listen for maybe a few words in, but the minute we hear something that sounds just a little off from what we think, we rarely keep listening. This happens all the time. The professor raises a question, hands go up in response and someone takes it upon himself or herself to share something that opposes the thoughts I have.

Our inability to listen has actually become the reason as to why conflicting views cannot be bridged in some way and why we’ve left very little room for compromise within our community. Our instinct is to say: “I have found the fault” or “I don’t agree.” The girl sitting next to me loves the winter and I hate it, so we cannot go on to speak about things in the same way. Because we don’t think the same way.

Well, we’re going to spend our entire lives trying to find people who do.

If my mind could stay in the conversation just a bit longer to listen, I might realize that the girl who loves the winter might have a memory attached to this season or maybe has never experienced snow before college or maybe doesn’t easily feel cold, like I do all months of the year.

Don’t get me wrong, the problem is not that we have different opinions from one another. That’s entirely inevitable, and if you’re just realizing that now, maybe you need to become more observant of the way the world functions. If differing opinions won’t change in our lifetimes, what will is our response to them.

Ingrained in me is a habit of shutting out others’ thoughts simply because I want to respond with an objection that reflects my personal opinion, convincing everyone that I am, in fact, right.

My parents have always told me: “Bailey, you have to start listening to people around you. You will miss so much if you don’t.” For the amount of time I spend defending myself in opposition to a point someone raises against me, I could spend the time listening to what someone had said. If I let the girl who loves winter tell me why, I could have waited to explain to her why I hate it.

Mutual understanding — it’s something rare I think we’ve lost. Instead of trying to consider what position people may be coming from, I am so fixated on my own. That doesn’t mean someone’s opinion has to sway you to the “other” side. It is more a way of developing confirmation toward why you have come to your own conclusion, while also making an effort to meet the other person halfway.

Winter is the worst season according to me and maybe many others. I could probably find and present research on the multitude of health benefits attached to other seasons or attack the amount of illnesses that circulate in the winter compared to other times of year. There are various ways to prove a point is correct, but that’s not my objective.

It’s the process of getting there that matters. I always tell people: “We all only listen to what we want to hear.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke at Hill Auditorium this past Monday and she shared that during her first year as an undergraduate student at Princeton, she listened. She met many people, with many backgrounds that were entirely different than her own. And she listened. Beyond just being attentive, she really heard them. Today, she is so influential in the public sphere and can use her voice to project her beliefs to the public. She took the time early on to listen in order to develop a voice that projects such value and wisdom.

If we just spent a little more time listening to people and truly hearing what they have to say, our responses to divergent views would probably be more appropriate. If you really want to find a platform for your voice to be heard, you must first listen to others around you. We live in a world of opinionated people, who are passionate about many things. In order to express your view, especially if you’re trying to say it is “right,” you have to hear what the other side says. Otherwise, how do you really know they are wrong?

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