On Listening: Intern 2 Tries to Communicate with the Guy Who Knows He’s Right (Even if He’s Wrong)

(This week, Intern 2, who is overly shy of face-to-face disagreement, springboards from current events to wax long on the subject of persuasion.)

We have a pink elephant here on the Salvo Blog whose presence we have yet to point out.

It’s called the Affordable Care Act, or whichever nickname you’d prefer to give it.

I am far from a legal, or economic, or medical expert. You do not want me to analyze the bill itself, its implications, or the details or outcomes of last week’s ruling by the Supreme Court. There are experts who have already provided that analysis, or at least such an analysis as is possible at this early stage.

Many, many analyses have been made and opinions been stated.

Obviously, they have not all arrived at the same conclusions. Chances are, right now you’re dealing with someone whose conclusions are not the same as yours.

So this is Harrison, your colleague of whatever philosophical persuasion who is one-hundred percent sure he’s come down on the right side of the issue, and isn’t afraid to tell you about it.

It could be that Harrison’s convinced that the health care decision represents a key triumph for the social virtue of the United States. He knows a few cases personally who have had trouble paying for medical care under the current system, or he’s had trouble himself (and comments that he simply won’t pay the bills he can’t afford—he says that eventually, they’ll stop coming). He knows, and he’ll tell you, that there’s no way the eventual enactment of the ACA as law could possibly be problematic, and if you suggest otherwise, he’ll assume you must necessarily be looking at the issue from a perspective of privilege. In other words, you’re a lost cause.

And how do you, or more accurately, we, answer Harrison effectively?

To start with, we have to listen to him.

It could also be that Harrison’s convinced that the health care decision represents the cataclysmic end of the American Experiment. He sees the infringements on personal liberties that the ACA contains within itself and could open the door to in the future. He knows, and he’ll tell you, that this has placed us on the brink of an inevitable disastrous threat to our autonomy of conscience, and if you see reason for hope in the details of the Supreme Court’s decision or the relative unpopularity of the Act’s most objectionable sections, he’ll assume your reason has been already been decayed by the regressive force of a Progressive culture. In other words, you’re a lost cause.

And how do we answer Harrison effectively?

To start with, we have to listen to him.

Harrison is a fellow human with a heart and a brain, with a mind and a soul. He has a story. He has some form of reason for believing what he has come to believe. As humans, we are given the capacity to understand and empathize with other humans. It fulfills a basic principle for us to work toward understanding and empathizing with Harrison.

Of course, as is the case with fulfilling other basic principles, this is easier said than done. It would be extremely challenging for me personally if Harrison told me that, as a woman, it behooved me not to post my thoughts and opinions in a public forum. I’m working on it. Harrison is like me a creature of God.

Also, knowing how someone got to where they got to is the first and most vital step in honestly and compassionately helping them get somewhere else.

So we listen to Harrison. We learn about him, and, in turn, Harrison will be more likely to listen and learn about us.

I have a story about my own Harrison, who happened to be female. I was relating a story to Girl Harrison about an acquaintance who, right on the verge of finishing a professional degree, had accepted a job in her field and was planning to marry her fiancé the following year. I happened to run into the acquaintance very shortly, possibly immediately, after she discovered she was pregnant (she was visibly shaken when I spoke with her. It ought to go without saying that the fiancé was the father.)

“She was really stressed,” I told Girl Harrison, “Because now she was planning the wedding for, like, the next month, and then they were moving out of state. So everything would have to happen at once.”

“So?” Girl Harrison said. “Just get an abortion.”

I hadn’t expected that response at all. The option in this instance hadn’t occurred to me. It hadn’t occurred to the acquaintance.

“But they already had everything together,” I said. “It was just going to be rough for a few months.”

“I’d just get an abortion,” Girl Harrison said.

I’ve since come to regret how quickly I changed the subject.

I didn’t have the courage to listen to Girl Harrison, as would be necessary to engage in a discussion with her. I knew her well enough to understand where some of her other points of view might have come from. But this assertion I left at the surface. I didn’t think I had the emotional energy or intellectual capacity to grapple with Girl Harrison on the subject of abortion, so I left it alone.

I didn’t get the chance to respond as I would have liked, as might have been effective. I didn’t get to say, “But it was the first child, by the man she was planning to have her children with. The unique and only first child. The DNA codes were all there. It was worth a few rough months.”

I think Girl Harrison would have listened to that answer. But if I was afraid to listen to her beyond her first declaration, why would I expect she would listen to me?

From now on, let’s listen. Let’s listen first. Then we can take a deep breath and give an answer that responds to what we listened to. We might be surprised. We might discover new dimensions of an issue that we hadn’t been aware were there. Harrison might prove to be as right as he thinks, or he might be only .001% sure he’s right at all. And while our own assurances may be altered through their questioning, the true assurances will be strengthened by it.

It is worthwhile to listen to Harrison, and worthwhile to answer him as well.

So thank you for listening to me.

Your answers are welcome.

Sincerely Yours,

Intern 2