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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

The road to progress starts with listening, not speaking

With the division that our country has experienced in the last few years, we have also heard many different perspectives on what we can do to fix it. Some of these methods preach peace and understanding of one another, and I couldn’t agree more. It is vital for us to make an effort to listen to each other’s perspectives rather than shouting our own viewpoints and opinions. Often though, it can feel like the methods of mending divisions are rarely acted on in daily interactions. Especially being at Our Lady’s University, I think that the key to listening to others’ views can be found in Scripture, as in James 1:19, when we are told to be “quick to hear, slow to speak [and] slow to anger.” While this might be taken as a nice sentiment that’s clearly difficult to act on, I believe that listening is key to creating a stable and collaborative environment.

One thing that Notre Dame is known for is the encouraging its students to investigate the foundations of our world and to better understand the teachings of the Catholic Church. As for my own experience, my faith has become the primary foundation for my worldview. When I was in 9th grade, I attended a non-denominational Christian summer camp. Although I loved going to camp, I was one of two Catholic girls in my cabin, so it was the first time that I really thought about what I believed about the Church and the interpretation of Scripture. Up until that point, I generally took what I heard from priests and my religion teachers as truth. I went through the week generally agreeing with what was being taught, but I was also captivated by the differences in methods of teaching, which were often quite effective, and considered what made Catholicism different from the beliefs of my evangelical Christian friends. When I told my Bible Study leader that I was Catholic, she asked me what Catholics believe that was “different.” I told her that most of the beliefs were the same, but one difference was the real presence in the Eucharist. After giving my best explanation, she asked me, “and do you believe that?” No one had ever asked me this before, something deep in my gut told me yes. After that, I intentionally sought experiences that helped me discern my own beliefs, which resulted in an even stronger Catholic faith. I am forever grateful for this experience because not only did I discern what I believed, but I also learned how to listen with the intent to understand and how to have difficult conversations about big questions.

As much as people don’t want to be confronted with the possibility of being wrong, I believe it’s a powerful experience to have conversations with people with differing beliefs. When we take the time to understand each other well, we’ll find a common humanity in one another that can often be forgotten amid heated opposition. I tell this story about my experience at camp because I think this lesson can also be applied to political and controversial conversations. While we constantly hear about learning to listen to each other, we can put on a posture of listening, but instead, we are just formulating our next thought. This is clearly exemplified in heated presidential debates from the last few elections. Candidates of all positions cut each other off while speaking to attack the other.

Take the recent immigration and asylum tussle between Texas, Florida, Arizona and New York earlier this year. New York City’s Mayor Eric Adams received criticism because of his remarks about the lack of resources to assist the newly arrived. Texas Governor, Greg Abbott has received much criticism for the “shipping of immigrants” to New York City and other cities. But the outrageous reality is that immigrants — men, women and children — are being shipped around the country as a political statement and because we have not found a solution that everyone can agree on. There have been strong attempts to find a bipartisan solution, like the Dream Act of 2023. However, most recently, members of Congress have threatened a government shutdown unless hardline border control action is taken, even amidst negotiations. Unwillingness to listen to each other is putting lives at risk — something that is very much in our control.

I am by no means claiming to be great at listening intently — I also have to actively work on listening to people I disagree with and really understanding them. Going back to Scripture, Proverbs 18:2 says that the fool “takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind.” As humans, we have a tendency to assume we know more than the next person, but I’ve learned that real logical thinking comes only after considering other perspectives. One of the wonderful things about the United States is the varying origins and perspectives that people have. With each person comes a different background that informs their experiences and beliefs. In that vein, you cannot fully understand their view if you don’t listen to their story. Some say that trying to be “open-minded” and listening to other perspectives leads us in the wrong direction and that we have a responsibility to condemn what is wrong. I’m not suggesting that we condone immoral behavior, or even that we have to agree with opposing viewpoints. We do have a responsibility to act on what is right, and we can hold our beliefs however strong they may be, but the road to progress starts with listening.

Following the legacy of Fr. Hesburgh, Notre Dame’s mission has always called people to a deeper understanding of each other, and in particular for bipartisanship. Just a few weeks ago at the Opening Mass for the academic year, University President Fr. Jenkins emphasized the need for this type of collaboration in his homily following the readingfrom St. Paul to the Corinthians. The passage calls upon the Body of Christ to use their gifts and voices to work together for the good of the whole. The background for the letter to Corinth, as described by Fr. Jenkins, has significant parallels to the current climate in the United States: “Paul addressed these words to a fractious, bickering, Christian community. Various groups were vying for supremacy, claiming that their founder was more prestigious and their gifts more valuable. They were the opposite of the kind of community they were called to be ... We are not so different from the Corinthians,” Fr. Jenkins said. He continued to highlight Paul’s message: “[Individuals and their gifts] are valuable only insofar as they contribute to the proper function of the body, and when they do contribute, they are essential to that body.”

Religious or not, we are all part of a community and living in a “fractious” nation. Like the passage, one side or one person’s perspective cannot solve every issue. Part of the beauty of living in the United States is the variety of perspectives that people bring to the table, and how those backgrounds inform our conversations. Listening does not call for silence or to ignore the issues at hand; rather, it’s a call to voice our perspectives so that they contribute to the good of the whole — which can only be accomplished by listening to one another.

Maddie Colbert is a sophomore from Dallas, Texas and lives in Howard Hall. She is studying global affairs and theology and currently serves as the director of publications for BridgeND.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets bi-weekly on Mondays at 7 p.m. in Duncan Student Center Meeting Room 1, South W106 to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.