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Want Washington to work? It will take listening and understanding

SHARE Want Washington to work? It will take listening and understanding

One of the greatest needs for human beings is the need to be heard and understood. That is the basis of trust, cooperation and coming together. It is essential for marriages, neighborhood, communities and countries to flourish.

It’s also true for functional politics.

Pew Research Center published new data on the divide between people who cast votes for President Donald Trump and those who voted for President-elect Joe Biden. The researchers began, “In the wake of a bitterly contested presidential election, President-elect Joe Biden has said he wants to work to narrow the nation’s deep partisan divisions. It is likely to be a formidable task. Voters who supported Biden and Donald Trump say they not only differ over policies, but also have fundamental disagreements over core American values.” 

That is neither surprising nor hard to believe. The Pew team continued, “Yet there is a sentiment with which large shares of both Biden and Trump voters agree: a feeling that those who supported the other candidate have little or no understanding of people like them.”

Feeling misunderstood and not heard fuels angst, anger, fear and frustration. It leads to conversation that pits “us” against “them.” Just 2% of Biden voters and a similarly insignificant number of people who voted for Trump felt that those who voted for the other candidate understood them “very well.” 

Voters on both sides dislike negative stereotypes the opposition ascribes to them. Given the opportunity to say something to those on the other political team, 11% of Trump voters and 12% of Biden voters used the opportunity to dispel the negative caricatures and pointed out the many similarities people on both sides have.

If the nation is to emerge from the pandemic, economic challenge and civil unrest, it must unite. Uniting will not happen without listening, hearing and understanding.

Nebraska’s Republican Sen. Ben Sasse wrote a mostly nonpolitical book titled, “‘Them’ Why we hate each other and how to heal.” It contains many prescriptive and constructive principles, philosophies and strategies to get America and its communities back to “we.” 

In a conversation with opinion editor Boyd Matheson, Sasse commented, “Humans are people created in the image of God with dignity. And we need to approach each other that way. … Donald Trump didn’t cause this problem. Donald Trump can’t fix this problem. Politics didn’t cause this problem. Politics can’t fix this problem. Politics is downstream from a much bigger crisis in this moment.”

President-elect Biden can’t fix it either. However, the new administration can help foster the environment and tone for it to begin.

The formula for beginning is simple and timeless — “love your neighbor.” Sasse suggests, “The way to love your neighbor is to have a pretty well thought out understanding of what will make your neighbor happy. And that is family, that is friendship, that is deep work ... I think if we’re going to do those things well, we’re going to have to come together to figure out how to build the new habits of social capital and of neighborliness and of community.”

We concur. The new year represents a new opportunity to set aside the “us” vs. “them” thinking and battles of the past. It is time we all take action in order to create space for the conversations, friendships, partnerships and relationships that will better serve “we” the people.