It is easy to aim all of our frustrations at our elected officials.
Who really feels that their elected officials truly represent them?
Few people are happy about our current state of politics. Being unhappy with the status quo is different from making things better.
But this is politics- and it involves a diverse group of people. Not everyone can get their way. Sometimes, we have to accept the undesirable to get the more important desirable things we want. This is part of being an adult.
If you are an elected official, how do you really ‘represent’ your constituents? How do you know what they want as well as what they need? How do you now what they are willing to ‘pay’ [in time, energy, resources and lost opportunities] to get what they want?
I think elected officials need to listen. But how do you really listen to hundreds of thousands of people?
Listening is tricky. Because we, as humans, don’t really hear the words that others speak. We hear the stories we make up about what we ‘heard’ [what our senses picked up]. This is why you can have a person say something to a group and the group will disagree about what was said.
And if you are an elected official, you can’t talk with everyone you represent. But you are forced to talk with those that you need help from – which includes those that you need to fund your campaigns. Without another option, elected officials just might think the people they talk to to get help funding their campaigns are the same as the people they are supposed to represent.
Candidates could try to find things out with polls, but those are imperfect at best.
Why put the burden on the elected officials or those considering running for office?
Why can’t we citizens create listening spaces? These could be Forums where citizens get together and discuss issues and concerns in a group setting. A place where there is real dialogue about the issues and about what could possibly be done to fix things. A place where the consequences of change can be talked about as well – what are we willing to give and what are we willing to lose to get change.
Elected officials or those running for office could come to these forums and listen. It would give them a chance to watch their ‘bosses’ [remember they were supposed to work for us citizens, right?] and see what they care about.
And the conversations will be messy – because people working together is messy.
But these respectful listening spaces – forums where citizens talk with each other and where elected officials – or those who want to lead – can come and listen might just produce a space where we can all realize that we share many things with other people. And if we started to talk to each other, maybe we can find the time when the labels of party did not separate us as they do today.
I watch the ‘Town Halls’ on television and the portions that make the news are not examples of listening. They aren’t even examples of dialogue. And they are rarely respectful.
But what if they were? What difference could that make?
A listening space for elected officials is also a learning space for citizens.
It is a place where ideas come to discover the impacts those ideas have on others.
It is a place for your beliefs to get tested. Maybe you believe something to be true that isn’t really true, or at least doesn’t work the way you thought it did. Maybe you hadn’t considered a situation from someone else’s point of view.
We live in a complex world with a global marketplace enabled by technology that is changing at a faster rate than every before. We cannot isolate ourselves. We cannot go back to the way the world worked before the technology created the global marketplace.
We cannot deny that technology makes things possible that were not possible before. We could give everyone renewable energy if we wanted to. We could produce clean water for everyone if we wanted to. We could end hunger if we wanted to. Technology also makes some things, perhaps many things, obsolete. Are we ready for the disruption that this is bringing and will continue to bring?
Sometimes change makes us wish for simpler times – but that is usually because we remember the past fondly, forgetting the messy parts, the painful parts, the ugly parts.
I would love a listening space to connect to the people around me. The ones that are in my community. I don’t interact with them routinely – because I work far away from where I live and so do most of the people who live near me. We don’t have a town square where we just hang out.
Social media like twitter, Facebook and even blogging, provides a forum to speak.
But not to listen – really listen. And not to connect.
What if we, the citizens, committed to produce such a space – a place where we would show up to learn, listen and share. What if we were committed to gather in respectful exchanges of ideas and opinions?
And what if our elected officials would come just to listen. No speeches – just listening.
I believe this is possible. I believe it could produce an end to the we-they conflict that keeps us at odds with each other.
Would you attend such an event? Why shouldn’t we try to do this at least for awhile?