The Character Movement


Listening to the Other

By Joe Cavanaugh

Almost every time I open a newspaper or read an article online, I notice a righteous rant about what is happening across our nation and world. You can pick any of today’s current issues and see fingers pointing and accusations of the “other side” being wrong.

Whether it is conversations with people in line at Starbucks or seeing the headlines in our inbox, there is an underlying trend: we have stopped listening to people who have a different perspective. We are so sure of our own rightness (or “leftness”) that we no longer listen to others. Instead, we are smugly content in our own assumed correctness. This intellectual bullying erodes the sense of community and connectedness in our world. We stagnate into gated communities of thinking and believing.

When another person voices an idea that is different than our own, we fail to acknowledge that the other person may have some truth in what they are saying. Much of this negative discourse in our culture is caused and encouraged by adults. But our focus at Youth Frontiers is to inspire the next generation of leaders to stop, listen and work toward building a more positive community and world.

This school year, we will work with a record-breaking 650 schools and 120,000 students and educators. We continue to grow because the need in schools continues to grow.

We get students to unplug for a day and be present. We get kids to share their names and stories and truly listen to each other’s words (not emails or texts). And when we do that, we see young people start to listen instead of speak and have dialogues instead of monologues. We get kids to engage in meaningful conversations that make our world a better place.

One of the core principles at Youth Frontiers is growth. Central to this growth is an openness to the “other” perspective that is offered by both friend and stranger. This growth cannot happen unless we truly listen to each other.

So the next time you find yourself saying how “wrong” another person is, whether it’s about the causes of violence in the Middle East or the issue of racism in America, pause and listen to what the other person is saying. Remember that there is personal truth in each of our own feelings and perspectives.

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