Urgent Listening

Time to Listen to the Other Party

Listening for the win can be what drives the vote.

two guys karate fighting in the woods.
two guys karate fighting in the woods.
Photo by Thao Le Hoang on Unsplash

My kids take karate lessons. Last year, I was at their sensei’s kick-ass, holiday party where I began a dialogue with another man who was a Trump supporter. He was older and of Asian descent. He was there with his son’s family. He just lost his wife.

We started talking politics and he shared his reasons for supporting the incumbent. He asked me if I supported Trump. I said no for all the conventional reasons — the bigotry, the pandemic mess, the unaddressed climate crisis, the law and order business, Kimberly Guilfoyle, you know.

And as I’m debating him, this guy started to get into it with me, growing increasingly hostile every time I countered his well-stated point with, “But what about….”

I use my words in conversations as contributions, not as batons.

He began to chastise me. He said I was a socialist for believing in a Democratic platform. He never gave himself a chance to see me, the actual me, as a civil someone who has a mix of mostly moderate views along with a few conservative ones too. Instead, he saw me as some overbearing, leftist hooligan who took to city streets to burn my anger and trash the place for no real reason other than unmanaged boredom.

But as he’s starting to get hot and bothered over his lasagna, I told him, “Hey, you gotta calm down. I am not married to my views. I just want to talk and share perspectives. That’s why I’m conservative with my dialogue, but liberal with my listening.

I thought that would do it — regulate the civility of our conversation. The funny thing is, as much as he acknowledged my words, he just continued to argue. He pulled a Lou Pinella, slowly going nose hair to nose hair as he grew more and more animated.

I said to him, “Look, you support Trump and you have your reasons, but that’s not important here. What’s important is I don’t know you. I don’t know the life you’ve lived. I don’t know what’s shaped your world. I don’t know if it’s been full of fear, fight, jubilation or joy. I don’t know what country you’re from, the town you live in, your family, or anything else. I don’t know if you like hockey, horses, scotch or cigars. For all I know you wear women’s clothing and dance on poles. The point is I don’t know anything about you. And you don’t know anything about me.”

I continued, “You have a point-of-view, as do I. But I’m not going to start a screaming match over politics mainly because I use my words in conversations as contributions, not as batons. And I’ve learned that the best conversations count when I discount my point of view merely to dial it down so that others can share theirs. This also helps make room in my head for a difference of opinion in the event I hear something to consider as I heard tonight. All I ask is you do the same.”

It really didn’t matter whether he was a Trump supporter, QAnon supporter, or athletic supporter. The fact is that we, as human beings, have an ability to talk. We can use words to advocate for what we believe is right, solve the nation’s problems, and write 90 tweets in 3 hours. (No wonder the president doesn’t read briefing books. How can he hold them?)

See, the roles could’ve been reversed. I could have been for Trump and the man could have been for the Democrats. The point of the story is the same. We have to listen to each other’s point of view. No two lives are the same. Yeah, we can bicker and fight all day and all night. But we have to come to some consensus on issues.

We went on to have an open, deep, well-regarded, and respectful dialogue about the state of the country and the path forward. The man and I knew this didn’t need to come to blows. We are older men who know better. He could’ve swayed me. He made some strong points, particularly about immigration reform. In the end, in November he’ll vote for his guy and I’ll vote for mine. Whether it’s the same one, that remains to be seen.

Oh, and yes, if things got nuts, I would’ve kicked his ass; at which point, I would’ve gotten my ass kicked. That’s what happens when you cause fights at the sensei’s holiday party.

For more articles by Anthony C. Fireman click here.

Published in The Boston Globe Magazine; Trying to figure it all out by expressing ideas, fears, hopes, and dreams; I have a dog, a very influential dog. Very.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store