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Community Conversations: Suspending your opinion and learning to listen

Published: 2/11/2020 10:50:30 PM

I inherently believe that in order to build a bridge to cross divides in difference, paradigm shifts are needed. We have to shift our perspective and work to have a greater understanding of another’s point of view.

I live in Francestown. Our school enrollment is declining and my local response is to say you can’t close our school. My second response is to reach out to a colleague who works in administration at ConVal and better understand what’s happening.

On a daily basis, I work to shift systems in how children and families can have better care for significant emotional and mental health needs. All too often we make judgments of families without knowing what they are managing, imposing our points of view on their circumstances without regard for what they encounter each day.

We can think the issues we hope to bridge in our community conversation, on Feb. 15 in Bass Hall, are ones focused on the national perspective; however, I believe they focus on our day-to-day lives.

From my perspective, it is about learning a new skill and practicing it over and over. My recommendation is to first look for what we have in common when building bridges. I do this by suspending my judgement on what I am presented with and working to learn as much as I can about what I am encountering.

I am number five out of seven children and I jokingly say that I wasn’t allowed to have an opinion. However, that experience has enabled me to have a keen ability to suspend my opinion. Practicing these skills is critical and it is how we strengthen our abilities to build bridges in understanding. Building bridges must be done personally, not through email and social media.

Everyone’s experience is real. We must not discount someone’s point of view, even if it seems very different than ours. It is critical that we withhold comments as well. It is easy for us to quickly judge a person or situation, or comment to a friend of the same perspective to get confirmation of our point of view. It is important to be curious and to better understand where someone comes from and where you may need to build a bridge.

To quote Stephen Covey “Seek first to understand and then, to be understood.”

As with a real bridge, there needs to be a belief that it will be safe to cross the bridge. We all may also consider what we can do to make it safe for someone to come to our side when they are trying to understand where we stand on an issue.

I hope you join us Feb. 12.

Dennis Calcutt lives in Francestown. He is Project Director at Monadnock Region System of Care and a NH Listens Fellow, Carsey School of Public Policy, University of New Hampshire.

  Join Community Conversations: ‘How do we build bridges?’ Wednesday, Feb. 12, at the Monadnock Center in Peterborough at 7 p.m.

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