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The Power of Listening. Lessons from #ConvergeSouth

I sat this past weekend and watched a panel of politicians not listen to each other.

They were talking about internet-flavored political hot button issues like municipal broadband and net neutrality. And one question (and it’s terrible answer) rang in my ears.  Regarding the current moratorium on municipal broadband in the state of NC, a particular liberal state politician was heavily against preventing local governments from providing free or low cost broadband to citizens.  The moderator then said, “Can you explain why those who are in favor of the moratorium are in favor of it?”

Brilliant question.  Here’s the answer that was given (all of the above and below are paraphrases, and that’s why I’ve left names out of it):

“Those who are in favor of the moratorium are doing so in an effort to help companies like Time Warner Cable and AT&T keep their current profits.”

Really?  You honestly think that conservative politicians who are voting for a moratorium (temporary halt so we can talk it over) on GOVERNMENT PROVIDED INTERNET are doing so because they want to help out AT&T and other “Big Business?”  There’s no possibility that they see a bit of a conflict of interest between a government providing the internet and the fact that the internet is what lots of people use to find out who to vote for and what is happening in the world?  It’s like a state run newspaper stand.  There’s no way those politicians with whom you disagree are looking out for something other than the profit margin for billion-dollar corporations?

I’m not trying to make a conservative point here (though I do side with the conservatives on this issue).  I’m making a far more basic point about the nature of debate and trust. (and one that applies in areas far outside of the realm of politics)

If you can’t clearly articulate the position of your opponent (in a way they would agree with), it shows me that you haven’t even been listening.  And I don’t trust people who don’t listen.

I’m far more OK with you understanding your opponent’s position and then intellectually defending why you disagree with it.  But to toss out a caricature that hardly represents your opponent’s views and then attack it is beyond loathsome, and it doesn’t do anybody any good in the long run.

If he had accurately presented the conservative position, I (as a conservative) would have been far more likely to actually engage in the dialogue.  As it is, I’ll just do my best to vote for somebody that is willing to listen.

About Ben Ben is a recovering pharisee, a web guy, a passable guitar player (as long as you’re not near Nashville), and the type of guy you’d want on your team in a game of Mad Gab. Follow him on twitter.

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