Teen Talk: We could make things better just by listening


Being that I am writing this on New Year’s Day, I thought I would share with you my New Year’s resolution: This year, I want to listen more and speak less. I know that seems ironic, as writing is a form of speaking, but I have wanted to share this sentiment with as many people as possible for a long time.

Last year in my global studies class, we watched a video clip from a TV show called “Madam Secretary.” The clip covered less than four minutes of the show, yet it is something I have thought about ever since I watched it. See, the clip consisted of the main character of the show, Elizabeth McCord, giving a speech about the differences between nationalism and patriotism. She declared that nationalism is a “perversion of patriotism” and “promotes the idea that inclusion and diversity represent weakness.” On the other hand, patriotism, she argued, “is about building each other up.” According to McCord, nationalism breeds blind hatred, and that is why she decided that nationalism is the greatest threat of our time.

After we completed the clip, our teacher posted a discussion forum in which we would answer that very question: Do you think nationalism is the biggest threat the world faces? At the time, I answered that yes, I did think it was the largest threat. After all, despite the fact that the show is fictitious, the speech was quite inspiring (I recommend watching it). More than that, I rationalized that if nationalism was eradicated, the world would be filled with much less hate, thereby causing people to be less opposed to their differences. If people were more willing to simply accept each other, then they could focus on massive issues such as climate change, poverty, violence, etc.

For the most part, I still stand by that. I think nationalism is a large reason why people seem to argue more than they cooperate. Why most of the world’s problems are left unsolved. Why peoples’ empathy fails them. Why they refuse to listen to each other.

But that’s the real problem, is it not? That people fail to listen? Despite the existence of nationalism, if people could listen to each other, learn to work together, and overcome their differences, then could they not subdue the evils that result from nationalism? That is why, if I could go back to my sophomore global studies class and answer that question once again, I think I would answer that failure to listen to each other is the biggest threat humanity faces.

Especially looking at a world that seems to be dominated by politics, I believe that listening to each other is more important than ever. Unfortunately for us, politics breed polarization, strife, and hatred. But I, being young and probably unbearably naive, nevertheless believe that if people made an effort — really made an effort — to listen to each other rather than trying to instantly force their opinions on others, the world could become a much more friendly, progressive place.

Of course, this then begs the question, does everyone deserve to be heard? It depends on whom you ask. Some would say absolutely not, others would say definitely. But this being an extremely nuanced question, many, myself included, would say that there is no clear answer. To me, allowing someone to be heard depends a lot on circumstance. That said, I think, from a moral standpoint, we owe everyone enough respect to at least try to hear them out. While listening may not always work out, or even be an option, I just ask that we try, for listening often prevents belligerent action.

That is why, however small and insignificant my actions may be, trying to listen is my New Year’s resolution. Even if consciously listening more helps just one person in my life, it will be worth my while. And, given time, I hope that listening will be a positive habit we can all implement in our lives, eventually helping to sculpt us into better people. 

Jordan Forbes is a junior at Oneonta High School. This is her Teen Talk debut. Readers may contact her at jforbes@oneontacsd.org.

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