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The Importance of Really Listening – For Ourselves, Others and Democracy

This article discusses how listening carefully can help others and ourselves and is important for healthy democratic processes. Relying on Kathryn Schulz’s book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, the first part of this article addresses the reality that we all are wrong much of the time, and that listening is essential to get a better understanding of the world and to interact productively. We can’t correct our errors without recognizing our fallibility, which “helps us think more creatively, treat each other more thoughtfully, and construct freer and fairer societies.” She writes, “[L]istening is an act of humility. It says that other people’s ideas are interesting and important; that our own could be in error; that there is still plenty left for us to learn.”

The second part of this article discusses principles of freedom of speech reflecting a strong presumption in favor of speech – and listening. Unfortunately, there have been many efforts to restrain speech in K-12 and higher education, libraries, public events, and social media, among other contexts. College and university campuses are particularly important places for people to express differing ideas, which is essential for education and research.

These insights suggest that we should practice humility and serious listening even – and perhaps especially – when we strongly believe that we are right. We may not change our views, but listening should reduce our risk of error and it can help us to be as effective as possible in promoting our ideas. This mindset is critically important in democratic societies.

Click on the link below to download the paper


John Lande

John Lande is the Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Law and former director of its LLM Program in Dispute Resolution.  He received his J.D. from Hastings College of Law and Ph.D in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He began mediating professionally in 1982 in California.… MORE

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