Listen for the story, not the argument

August 20, 2019 | By Carol Quillen, president of Davidson College, via Detroit Free Press

Let’s rethink how we converse across the aisle. What if we listened to each other as tellers of stories to be understood rather than as spokespersons for positions to be refuted?

Admittedly, I’m a historian, and historians are all about stories — uncovering them and telling them. Our stories are mostly about dead people (who can’t speak for themselves) told to living people (who otherwise might not hear them).

Constructing stories about dead people for living people entails ethical responsibilities. You can’t invent, ignore or willfully distort facts, and you can’t twist a dead guy’s story to fit your agenda or the agenda of your audience. You have to ask thoughtful questions and “listen” to the historical record with an open mind so that you can honor the multi-dimensionality of the people whose stories you will tell.

Compare this with how we among the living routinely engage with one another now. We knowingly misrepresent the points of view of people with whom we disagree. Armed with a cellphone, we willfully distort what actually happens to make our point.

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