Talking About Differences: The Sequel

Yesterday, “06880” challenged readers to tell us “how to have good conversations with people of different backgrounds and generations that might help break through walls.”

The request was sparked by an earlier comment from alert reader Clark Thiemann. He thought that the TEAM Westport Teen Essay Contest on that topic should not be limited to high school students.

A dozen readers responded with very thoughtful comments. They included travel, reading, education, and joining the military. Click here, then scroll down to see them all.

We also encouraged emails directly to “06880.” Here’s one, from Gail Berritt:

In January 2020 I was part of a delegation from across the US who went to Alabama to hone our compassionate listening skills on the civil rights trail.  We were there to learn history, but also to listen to those who lived it.

It was not just the 1960’s civil rights activist whose ancestors had been slaves that we heard from, but also folks whose ancestors had been part of the Confederate movement and had a different perspective on history and race.

What I learned was that my heart easily opened to those women (they were mostly women – black and white) who risked their lives to make America a more just nation for all. But I also saw that I was able to listen with curiosity and respect to those men (they were nearly all men) with different views of history and ideas of what they wanted America to be. I was able to connect in enough ways with the men that I walked away with hope that the bridge was not as wide as it sometimes seems.

Truth is that just like there are many shades of people, there are many shades of beliefs. People are complex, and it’s not helpful to label them “right” or “left” or some other arbitrary word that does not take into account the complexity of their life experiences.

Traditional news media may show “two sides” of an issue, but chances are good that there are way more than two sides.

I am now spending less time listening to news outlets and more time listening to people. I am doing my best to do listen without a lot of judgment that clouds my ability to hear what’s being said, and also what’s not being said.

In the pauses, I try to feel compassion for their suffering and joy for their joy and practice being a better parent, friend and spouse.

It’s not easy. It takes real effort, but I can’t think of anything more worthy of my time and energy.

Thanks, Gail, for adding your insights to this important dialogue.

We also got a link from Krista Tippett. The journalist and author created and hosts the public radio program and podcast “On Being.” In 2014, she was awarded the National Humanities Medal. Click here to listen to Krista’s podcast, which adds to the conversation.

(Initiating dialogue is part of what “06880” does. Please click here to help this non-profit continue our work. Thank you!)

3 responses to “Talking About Differences: The Sequel

  1. The essay above is very good.
    Hopefully the kids working on their own essays haven’t read any of the previous post, otherwise their first sentence will be: “Why are all of the adults in our perfect town CRAZY?”

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      It’s not their fault. Their parents were too busy social climbing to bother with the fundamentals of life. Including deferred gratification, leadership by example and life is not fair.

  2. “I am now spending less time listening to news outlets and more time listening to people.” I love this the best.

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