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We don’t do a good job of listening to each other.

Nisha Anand, CEO, Dream Corps

This week’s elections made it clear that America still has a listening and lifting problem. We don’t do a good job of listening to people in pain, and we don’t do a good job of lifting up concrete solutions that people can get behind.

Gas and consumer prices are high. A global pandemic is still messing up our lives and hitting snooze on economic growth. School closures put a ton of stress on parents, and as a country we’re still struggling with the ugly parts of our history. 

Oh, and mass incarceration is still a thing, the climate crisis is already wreaking havoc, and our economy is fast going digital. There’s a lot of pain out there.

We don’t do a good job of listening to each other.

There is an empathy gap in America that is bigger than any partisan split. We dismiss the pain of people who aren’t in our political “tribe.” 

Some of us find it hard to look at systemic racism and inequity in our society. It’s not a thing of the past if Black and Brown folks are still more likely to be forced to breathe polluted air or end up behind bars.

At the same time, there is a whole lot of hurt and anxiety from people who are struggling financially, whose kids’ schools were closed by COVID, whose car got broken into. It shouldn’t surprise us if they are nervous that police reform or climate investments won’t help them.

Over the centuries, America’s greatest progress came when we listened to more and more voices, and dared to find points of agreement. 

If we have learned anything from organizing the Day of Empathy, the largest national day of action for criminal justice reform, it’s that if you start with people sharing their stories instead of who they voted for, people are willing to listen.

Those stories can lead to common ground on solutions. For instance, even though police reformers did not get everything out of the elections, there were wins that would not have been possible without the movement that emerged after the murder of George Floyd.

There were a whole lot of people running for local elected office promising to tackle crime, but do it smartly. That is a sweeping change from the days of “lock em up and throw away the key.”

The partisan logic says Americans either care about critical race theory or about abolishing the police. Empathy says that most of us just care deeply about our kids and want them to be educated and safe.

Once we listen to each other, we can start lifting up the solutions that emerge. You probably did not know that there is already a Common Ground on Climate platform full of ideas that both people in both parties support. 

Or, that while policing is still controversial, most Americans black and white support measures like ending qualified immunity and mental health diversion. Criminal justice reform is actually one of the bipartisan bright spots of the last 5 years.

Maybe we won’t stop fighting about our history. But a few months ago, we organized Black Future Weekend, and a ton of people came together to diversify tech and build a more equitable economy of the future.

Black or white, rural or urban, educated or not, Republican or Democrat – we can’t let ourselves get so stuck in our camps that we neglect the big problems that will affect all of us. 

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