For better or worse, my birthday coincides with inauguration day in the United States. I don’t post much in the way of personal opinion online, and I imagine with the political happenings this will mostly get buried in the noise. But since it’s my birthday, I’m going to ask for something.

I’d like to ask everyone to slow down, consume less news and social media, and make a conscious effort to start listening to each other more. Just listen, with curiosity and with as little judgement possible – particularly if you hear things you don’t agree with.

I think there’s a possibility that part of the reason we’ve become so polarized is that we generally don’t feel understood or heard, and therefore not fairly represented. So we grow resentful and self-focused, clinging to our beliefs as if they grant us belonging because as it turns out, there are countless other people who share similar beliefs, ready to bolster our dismay at those we don’t understand or who don’t understand us.

Without really realizing it, we’ve chosen teams. We watch the game play out via our curated Facebook feeds or our favorite custom-designed news source as if it’s in never-ending overtime, perplexed at how this could possibly be happening. But the game isn't reality. If we just turned the game off and listened, we might discover that we share more commonality than we’d initially believe. And that, in fact, it’s not a game at all. It’s our life. It’s the lives of others.

If you’re interested in making America great, start by listening to its people. Listen to your friends, your neighbor, your crazy aunt, the guy on the street corner, the hipster startup guy with the mustache wax. I don’t believe we should define ourselves as a nation of Hillary or Trump supporters. I think we’re nation of people with strong beliefs and passions who are starving to be heard and understood. That won’t happen unless we can all agree to actually listen to each other. We’ll certainly never agree on everything, but I believe the common ground to be found through empathy is vast.

If you’re celebrating your new president today, congratulations. If you mourn the transition, you are certainly not alone. Nonetheless, we’re in this together and I hope we can collectively find the will to listen, doing our best to understand each other with kindness.


Header photo: Jake Bellucci