Relatively few Americans could recount the details of French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed economic reforms, which he unveiled Thursday. Still fewer actually care.
But Macron taught one lesson every American should care about: listening matters.
The first-term president has spent the past 90 days convening his “great national debate” after “yellow jacket” protesters began occupying street corners to rally against high taxes and express their dissatisfaction with out-of-touch French elites.
Their visibility forced a reaction from Macron. He could have hunkered down in his gilded office and lambasted the crowd. He could have whipped up some supporters and entrenched a political battle of insults and identify politics.
Instead, he traveled the country, spending 92 hours listening to objections in public debates and amassing 2 million comments from run-of-the-mill citizens. “Only in France,” noted The Economist, “would the response to a social rebellion have been a three-month-long national conversation.”
Well, why not in America?
There’s plenty to listen to here — concerns over education costs, student debt, housing prices, health care, immigration and the growing divide at the intersection of religion and LGBT activists. Unfortunately, the country doesn’t use its ears as much as its mouth, and the mantra of “retreat and tweet” is not the answer.
We’re confident no one would like to hear politicians talk more. But who wouldn’t appreciate feeling heard and understood?
When outgoing President Barack Obama designated millions of acres in southern Utah as the Bears Ears National Monument, locals expressed their anger, not because they didn’t love the land but because nobody consulted them in the process.
Similarly, the Trump administration seems to have listened to a few advisers who champion economic tariffs. Had they listened to the rural farmers now injured by the policy, the response may have been different.
And the principle applies just as much to would-be office holders. With the entrance of former vice president Joe Biden, the makeup of the 2020 presidential race looks solidified. Will candidates listen on the campaign trail, or will they care more about outdoing their opponents by offering lavish policy proposals? Historically, the answer favors the latter, but any candidate who truly wants to gain the hearts of voters will humbly listen to regular folks.
The difference between Macron’s deliberate community debates and a candidate’s campaign stop at a local diner is a matter of intent. Currying voters’ favor is not the same thing as seeking to understand others and craft solutions.
Whether in business, politics or in the home, listening is the leader’s greatest tool. For the coming week’s episode of “Therefore, What?” Deseret News opinion editor Boyd Matheson spoke with longtime director of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square Mack Wilberg on how he gets more than 300 voices to sing in harmony.
His answer: “They listen louder than they sing.”