Ask Me Why: National Day of Listening

Can we change the way we talk to one another, especially when we disagree?

November 24, 2010

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(Melvin Gaal/Flickr)
Listen.
In the years since the 2000 election normalized the concept of red and blue states, America has only become more politically and culturally polarized. We’re more likely to be friends with people who share our opinions, and listen to media outlets that reflect back to us our existing beliefs. Social media and new digital technologies have revolutionized the way we talk to one another and share our opinions, but they haven’t necessarily made us better at listening, or at disagreeing without shouting, debating, or itching to make our next point. We can text and we can Tweet, but can we have a conversation without maligning the other side? Can we actually listen to what the other side has to say?
 
WBEZ is proud to present Ask Me Why, a series of recorded conversations inspired by StoryCorps National Day of Listening. In collaboration with Illinois Humanities Council, we asked pairs of people who know each other and who disagree on an issue if we could record them having a conversation - with a bit of a twist. We told these pairs they couldn’t debate, argue or challenge each other. They could only take turns asking each other questions, and listening to the answers. Rather than argue point-counterpoint, the goal would be to better understand why the other person thinks the way they do: What personal experiences shaped their opinion on this issue? Did they always have this opinion and if not, what changed their mind? We wanted to present the idea that thoughtful deliberation and disagreement involves not just making your point, but listening to and working to understand those with whom you disagree. 
 
For this first installment of Ask Me Why, we have an excerpt from a conversation that took place between Ann Hanson and Daniel Kreisman, two friends who met as graduate students studying education policy at the University of Chicago. Ann and Daniel have spent hours debating policy with one another, both as classmates and as friends. But until recently they had never asked how the other arrived at their beliefs.
 
For example, why do they feel differently about the issue of school vouchers, when they both read the same studies and took the same classes? Daniel, who taught at underperforming public schools in New Orleans, believes that public money should be given to parents to spend on private schools; while Ann, who grew up the daughter of public school teachers in Milwaukee, does not.
 
In the audio excerpt posted above, Daniel and Ann talk to each other and share the stories behind their beliefs, and surprisingly find some common ground.
 
 Ask Me Why is made possible by generous support from The Boeing Company and is produced in partnership with the Illinois Humanities Council. Over the next few months we will bring you more installments in this series. If you would like to participate in the Ask Me Why series, you can download the nomination form here