It’s Time for a National Listening Project

Are you getting tired of the ping-pong news cycle yet? I sure am. The predictions of same old, same old war with the happy-days-are-here-again prognostications. We’re taking our troubles with us argues fluently with we’re leaving our troubles behind us. It will not surprise you when I say that, actually, it’s both.

Here’s Opinion writer Wajahat Ali, “Like many, I would love an instant catharsis, a release from this enduring tragedy. I want us all to be able to interact without wearing masks, to hug our loved ones and to sleep peacefully knowing a president isn’t rage-tweeting while watching Fox News. But despite all the talk about how bad this year has been, life will not return to normal at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Chaos and crises don’t follow a calendar.” No, they don’t.

He also maintains, “If we want 2021 to be better, we will have to make it better ourselves.” This too is true, Beloved. I am certain that the number one skill required is listening. And not listening to rebut, refute, disagree, keep up the cultural divide, but listening to foster, to foment, to fertilize the ground for our ongoing mutual betterment.

In “Trump Didn’t Break Our Democracy. But Did He Fatally Weaken It?,” Drs. Susan D. Hyde and Elizabeth N. Saunders, respectively via UC/Berkeley and Georgetown, write, “In our research, we argue that though all democracies are imperfect, one of their central virtues is that they are built to be resilient — to bend without breaking, even when elected leaders pull institutions in an authoritarian direction. But just because they’re more flexible doesn’t mean democracies can’t break. Resilience — the ability to adapt and keep functioning under strain — is a resource that needs replenishing, not a guarantee of safe passage.”

Resilience, according the venerable OED, carries two vital qualities. The first is the ability to recover quickly; the second is elasticity. It comes via obsolete 16th century French from Latin resilire which means to recoil and is rooted in re- = back + salire = to jump.

As the author of a book on etymology, I can assure you that etymologists are opportunists in the sense that we often use the same prefixes and suffixes to mean different things. I disagree with the OED’s etymology, most specifically its definition of re-. For me, re- always signifies again. So my etymological roots for resilience mean to jump again.

It may feel picayune to you, but it makes a significant difference to the meaning of the word. To jump back implies jumping back to something, and something specific, but to jump again means we’ve already successfully jumped — and we can do it again.

This successful jumping is one of the major gifts of the coronavirus. Several sectors — education, medicine, and employment — have jumped successfully into the 21st century and the use of technology to free people from having to show up in person. Turns out, we can learn via distance, we can diagnose and treat via distance, and we can work via distance. All of these sectors had the brakes on, the airbags detonated, the emergency brakes on, and the absolutely not of but we’ve always done it this way activated at def-con five.

By no mistake, the word resilience sent me to the word silo, which means isolate, and that sent me right back to listening as the number one skill we need to find solutions for ourselves and our democracy.

We have become too isolated from one another, Beloved, so isolated, living in such curated bubbles, that we are no longer listening to one another as a rule. Better said, listening to one another has become the exception, not the rule. It’s hard to listen when we are so siloed, so isolated, so inflexible.

Opinion Columnist Thomas L. Friedman has a brash and delicious suggestion that I whole-heartedly endorse. Before I share it, let me go on record that I am as delighted as the next person that Kamala Harris is Vice President-Elect, I’m glad she’s a woman, I’m glad she’s Black, and I’m glad she’s Indian-American. She symbolizes all that’s right about the diversity that is America.

And I still agree with Mr. Friedman, “[Kamala] Harris is too smart and energetic to be just the vice president, a position with few official responsibilities. I’d love to see President-elect Joe Biden give her a more important job: his de facto secretary of rural development, in charge of closing the opportunity gap, the connectivity gap, the learning gap, the start-up gap — and the anger and alienation gap — between rural America and the rest of the country.”

Mr. Friedman spoke with Beth Ford, president of Land O’Lakes, the influential farmer-owned cooperative headquartered in Minnesota. “[S]preading connectivity and technology to rural America ‘is an American issue, an American competitiveness issue and an American national security issue.’”

He asks and answers, “‘What should a Biden-Harris rural strategy look like? It would start with showing up regularly. “Showing up” and “just listening to people” with respect goes a long way in rural America,’ said Duluth’s mayor, Emily Larson. ‘Actually, nothing earns more respect than listening to people respectfully.’” Here’s the listening skill I mentioned, Beloved.

“On policy specifics, the Biden-Harris team should commit that in four years every rural community in America will have access to broadband — the basic infrastructure needed for an inclusive modern economy.

“But while better connectivity is necessary, it’s not sufficient. ‘We also need to ensure investment in digital skills training in rural communities and incentives for tech companies to hire remote workers in small towns,’ added Matt Dunne, founder of the Center on Rural Innovation. ‘Today rural America represents 15 percent of the nation’s work force, but only 5 percent of digital economy jobs of the future. But the pandemic has opened people’s eyes to the idea that digital economy jobs can be created anywhere.’”

Mr. Friedman concludes, “Kamala Harris is a natural for that task. Who better to bridge Silicon Valley and the rural valleys of America? She is also a natural bridge builder to a more inclusive American heartland, because rural America is not white America.”

When I think of rural America, I remember long road trips driving through landscapes my solidly suburban self didn’t recognize. And siloes. Always siloes silhouetted against expanses of blue sky.

But our siloes, Beloved, have begun to limit us, and thereby, hurt us, close to irreparably, but not totally. Listening, by Vice President Harris, is a start, but I’d go further than Mr. Friedman. I’d like to see Veep Harris start a National Listening Project. Its purpose would be the reestablishment of connection, the recognition of common ground, and a seeking to find common good toward which we can all agree to work together.

As I read the news this morning, a song lyric began to rise in my heart. At first, faintly. I knew the phrasing was undeniably Streisand, but I couldn’t quite catch it. Eventually, one of the phrases became clear, and I Googled it. It’s from a song by Buffy Sainte-Marie called “Until It’s Time For You To Go.”

The words are, “I was an oak / Now I’m a willow / Now I can bend ….”

It doesn’t matter what you put in the place of “You” in the song title, Beloved. It’s time for Trump to go. It’s time for political sectarianism to go. It’s time for all the isolated, curated siloes we inhabit to go. What’s inarguable, I think, is that it’s time for change.

The illustrious Mr. Friedman again. “Most important, lifting rural America is the right thing to do for all of America and fulfills Biden’s vision of a nation that ‘grows together’ in every way.”

That’s what’s really at stake, Beloved. Will we decide to grow together or will we insist that our already-fragmented society continue its bull-headed resistance to a world that works for everyone? Chaos and crisis may not follow a calendar, but order and healing inevitably do. The first step is out of the silo, into the winds of change, adopting the flexibility of the willow, and listening deeply to one another.

Dr. Susan Corso is a spiritual teacher, the founder of iAmpersand, and the author of The Mex Mysteries, the Boots & Boas Books, and spiritual nonfiction. Her essays are about culture and spirituality. Her website is susancorso.com.

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Dr. Susan Corso a metaphysician with a private counseling practice for 35+ years. She has written too many books to list here. Her website is www.susancorso.com

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Susan Corso

Susan Corso

Dr. Susan Corso a metaphysician with a private counseling practice for 35+ years. She has written too many books to list here. Her website is www.susancorso.com

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