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Courage to Speak, Humility to Listen

If we value things like friendship, family, community, education, workplaces that work, and democracy, there’s a minimum requirement. We must learn to talk with each other, even when we disagree. Not “at” each other, or even “to” each other, but “with” each other!

So, how’s that going for us? The answer varies from one person to another, from one setting to the next. But when it comes to American democracy, it’s not going very well.

The problem goes much deeper than the infamous dysfunction in Washington, D.C. The problem goes all the way down to us, to “We the People.”

We could have an impact on how they talk with each other, if we would learn to talk with each other across our lines of difference. For real. In a democracy, that’s how “We the People” address urgent issues, form a rough consensus on the common good, and hold our leaders accountable to our will. When we can’t do any of that, we have no leverage on our government.

Here’s a poem about talking with each other by one of my favorite poets, Marge Piercy. It’s not only wise but full of practical advice.

I love the idea of talking in the dark so we couldn’t see who’s speaking and would have to focus on what’s being said! I love the idea that some of us must “dare to speak” while others must “bother to listen.” I love the idea that some of us “must learn to stop dancing solos on the ceiling”! And I love the last few lines. They remind us how impermanent we are, thus encouraging the humility required for good things to happen between and among us.

by Marge Piercy

We must sit down
and reason together.
We must sit down.
Men standing want to hold forth.
They rain down upon faces lifted.

(Excerpted from Circles on the Water. Read the full poem here.)

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