Take the risk of listening

Take the risk of listening

Photo contributed by Elizabeth Speigle.

Photo contributed by Elizabeth Speigle.

Talking to people with differing opinions and attitudes toward life is difficult and sometimes just plain awkward. I know this from experience. I feel pretty strongly about a variety of topics, and I’m afraid of what could happen if I try to talk to someone who believes differently.

I’m writing this to myself as much as anyone else. I know that I tend to avoid people who aren’t like me, who don’t have similar opinions and beliefs. I don’t think this is a conscious choice – at least I hope not.

Honestly, though, most of my friends and I agree on a lot of things that are pretty central to who I am:  religion, politics, worldview. We can have good conversations about our questions and doubts, certainly, but our basic beliefs and opinions are generally similar. I like being able to talk to friends about things I care about.

But I keep feeling led to get to know those with other beliefs and attitudes, if only for the selfish reason that I know I’ll be a better person because of it. Talking about difference of opinion can be hugely empowering to all sides involved, and it allows us to expand our understandings of differing perspectives, see where they are coming from and how their experiences have shaped their views.

Believe me, though, it’s hard to hear someone I disagree with strongly and not immediately think, “you’re wrong.” Lately I’ve been exploring how to go about talking – though mostly listening – to those who believe differently from me.

Those kinds of conversations can be difficult to start. Mostly I say things such as, “Can you believe what ‘so-and-so’ said in class today? How wrong is that?” to my friends in order to get support that what I believe is truth.

I am slowly trying to recognize the need to truly understand others’ differing opinions. Ignoring what others have to say can be dehumanizing. We all have something important to contribute, no matter how big or small.

I’m not saying I know exactly how to start honest, loving conversations with people who we disagree with. But maybe we just need to take a risk and try it.

Elizabeth Speigle is a sophomore sociology major from Telford, Pa.

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