The First Step of Civil Political Discourse? Listening

By: Laura Craig, University of Central Arkansas

The theme of this seminar is elevating discourse. What has surprised me most is that many of our speakers have all returned to the same basic point: the first step is listening. They have argued that we need to set aside our biases, assess the facts, and hear opposing arguments. Furthermore, we should analyze those arguments for theirs strengths.

No one is completely right all the time, and nothing gets accomplished in Washington without bipartisan support. Therefore, we should recognize that we all want the best for the United States; we just have different ideas of how to improve and what should be improved upon.

I expected to hear the speakers discuss talking rather than listening. However, this is exactly why my fellow students and I needed to hear about the importance of listening. To have a conversation with someone, you must both be fully engaged by listening to one another and talking to each other. If you cannot listen to someone, it doesn’t matter how strong your arguments are, or even if you’re right, you will not elevate your political discourse.

For me, as a 21-year-old senior who is majoring in political science and digital filmmaking at the University of Central Arkansas, the greatest academic opportunity of this seminar has definitely been the access to experts and key policymakers here in Washington as well as site visits to the Holocaust Museum, foreign embassies, and think tanks.

These speakers and visits provided me with a perspective and insight I cannot attain in Arkansas. Many of the people we met during our site visits are key policymakers; they advise the president, lobby for environmental causes, and provide well-respected public comment through the media. The opportunity to interact with people of this caliber and at reputable institutions has helped me network for my career. This opportunity that the Washington Center has provided for me has allowed me a glimpse of different careers in politics, and I will leave the program better informed about what path I want to take in pursuing my career.

From afar, it often seems like Washington is a veritable war zone with the president on one side and Congress on the other; or the media on the other side; or an NGO or lobbyist group against the president. However this seminar has challenged these beliefs because it has shown me many instances where people work across the aisle and across the political divide to create lasting policies and change.

From now on, I will not let the sensationalized versions of the stories I hear on the evening news dictate my beliefs about relationships in Washington. Instead, I will conduct research myself through reputable sources including my congressmen, C-SPAN, The Washington Post, and several other outlets to which I have been exposed throughout the course of this seminar.

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