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Prairie City News

I’m listening, are you?

When I took the job as editor of the Newton Daily News’ weekly newspapers in 2014, one of my less defined tasks was to write a weekly column. I chose to title my recurring opinion piece “Trending.” It’s intent has been to provide an outlet for my comments on the over-arching topics which consume the national current event conversation without compromising my objectivity on local issues I cover as a news reporter. It also gives me a chance to help readers “connect the dots,” and attempt to show how national news and events fit into a local context.

In that four years, I’ve commented on the 2016 election, Iowa’s influence in Chinese agricultural markets, ISIS, astronomy and, of course, Star Wars.

But in 2017, I’ve fallen silent on many news topics of the day. It’s not because I don’t have an opinion or viewpoint on the struggles facing our nation, but I am suffering from a bit of news fatigue.

We hide it well, but journalists are possibly the most likely group of people to fall ill to this condition. The pace at which news has been coming out of Washington, D.C. and across the world this year has been mind-numbing and its substance, discouraging.

Instead of commenting, I’ve elected to be a quiet observer and take time to reflect on this political moment. I’ve been spending this time asking why our political discourse has hit a fever pitch. News analysts and pundits have been speculating and quoting polling data since President Trump was elected last November to try to piece together in real time why the Trump-effect took hold. I’ve chosen to watch and listen before I add my two cents worth.

But I’ve began to answer, for myself, why our country is going through this turbulence and in 2018 I will again be sharing my viewpoint with you.

As we approach New Year’s Day, I propose a challenge. In 2018, instead of repeating the talking points of your favorite pundit or quote the latest Fox News or MSNBC poll, take that information, tuck it away and listen — listen to a friend, family member, the person who sits next to you in the church pew or on the bar stool, the person who holds a different perspective.

But don’t stop there. After you’ve listened, try to understand why they’ve formulated that opinion. What circumstances have their life given that informs their world view? Are they rich, poor or somewhere in between? Are they healthy, sick or have a loved one with a chronic condition? Do they have a family or are they alone? Are they Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Atheist? Are they black, white, Hispanic, Asian or bi-racial? Immigrant, indigenous or citizen? Man, woman, transgendered, sexually fluid, gay, straight or bi-sexual?

What obstacles or opportunities does that person have to bring them to where they are today? Only when we know these things can we understand why your neighbor has a difference in opinion. You may not agree but, if you take the time to listen and learn, you can respect their point of view. Regardless, they are still your neighbor.

Contact Mike Mendenhall at mmendenhall@monroelegacy.com

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