It seems like every time we turn on the TV, read the news, or listen to the radio, polarizing language about a range of local, national, and global issues dominates the conversation. Differing attitudes when it comes to politics, religion, or social issues have erected barriers between people across the country, and the imminent U.S. presidential election has only further divided a country that has been attempting to address social, economic, and racial inequalities for decades.
But for the next few months, Texas Public Radio – with support from the John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation, a fund of the San Antonio Area Foundation – will challenge San Antonio to “dare to listen.” Local religious, political, educational, and other community leaders gathered at the Area Foundation headquarters at the Pearl Wednesday morning to take the dare and launch the citywide Dare to Listen awareness initiative.
City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), Former U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-123), Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President Richard Perez, among others, were in attendance.
“We all know that something has gone very wrong (in our world). The once unimaginable has become our almost daily reality,” said Joyce Slocum, president and CEO for Texas Public Radio. “Even before the most recent incidents of tragic violence, inflicted by our own people on our own people, we were searching for a way to empower our community with a call to something personally actionable that would help influence the dynamic that would bring us to a conscious place of active listening and serve as a catalyst for open dialogue.”
The Dare to Listen campaign will do just that.
While some of the campaign programming is still developing, Slocum said that Texas Public Radio and the Area Foundation will bring the initiative to the entire city through on-air interviews and messaging, live events, social media, and ads in news sources. This fall, both entities will host on-campus events at area colleges and universities to bring awareness to the campaign and create Dare to Listen material kits to be distributed at various religious institutions.
It will be a true community initiative, one that will require patience and understanding to inspire connections among those who disagree on various issues.
So far, about 300 people have already gone online and have taken the pledge.
“Establishing an atmosphere where civil civic debate is valued, where differences are respected, where common ground is celebrated – it’s on all of us,” Slocum said. “We must each take responsibility for our own actions. It cannot rest solely on the shoulders of our leaders. By the same token, it’s vital that our leaders show the way, that they encourage us to be our best selves.”
Dennis Noll, executive director of the San Antonio Area Foundation, admitted that – like so many others – his ability to truly listen to others needs improvement.
“There have been times when I’m open to new ideas, there have been other times when I wasn’t. It feels as though everyone who has a microphone is yelling at me, that everyone knows exactly what I should think despite my background, my experience, my perspective, and in all of that noise it’s very easy to shut down,” he said. “That may be what we’ve done as a country, but we’re worse for it because when we don’t listen we lose so many things.
“I lose the depth and complexity if you’re thinking on an issue, more importantly I lose you and your story.”
Local religious leaders Fr. Cris Jansen, Rev. Otis Mitchell of Mount Zion Baptist Church, Imam Beytullah Cholak, and others shared prayers from each of their faiths with the group on Wednesday. Though each prayer was different, each leader asked a higher being to help society foster love, mercy, peace, and understanding.
Then, Slocum asked the group: “What do you think is the biggest barrier to listening to each other?”
The audience members of varied backgrounds had mixed responses: lack of open-mindedness, lack of empathy, and even technology, which limits inter-personal connection. Former U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez told the Rivard Report after the gathering that, especially in politics, self-interest is often a dividing force that diminishes understanding among participants.
“People in public office aren’t setting a very good example. I left Congress for a reason and one of those reasons is that people quit listening,” he said. “I really do believe that there’s a responsibility of those that are in the public eye and are viewed as leaders, policy makers and such to be leading the charge and saying, ‘you know what, I listened and I realized something and this is where I am today because I listened.’”
Councilwoman Gonzales said with the 2017 municipal bond election coming up in next May, fostering an attitude of open-mindedness will be paramount for her and her Council colleagues.
“I think that, as an elected official, (listening to the community) is really my primary role,” she said. “So, getting really good at listening and being able to translate that into a project that people want and that is significant for them is the most important thing I can do.”
Listening means more than just agreeing to disagree, Graciela Sánchez, executive director for the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, told the Rivard Report after the campaign launch. It means sincerely trying to come to a place of understanding and tolerance of another person and their beliefs.
To take the Dare to Listen pledge or to learn more about the initiative, click here.
Top image: From left: Lowell T., Sarwat H., and Dana A. from Texas took the Dare to Listen pledge. Images courtesy of Texas Public Radio.