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Faith and Values: Listening to one another can help strengthen ties and heal divisions

FāVS News editor Tracy Simmons.   (Nataly Davies)

We have a sacred duty to listen to one another.

During times of division that can be especially hard.

The religion news and commentary publication I run, FāVS News, has been called a lot of names over the years.

Angry readers have called us homophobic, Islamaphobic, antisemitic, far-right, far-left, racist; the list goes on.

These accusations come when readers are angry we published a viewpoint they disagree with.

It’s the “I’m right, you’re biased” mentality.

According to a chapter in “Reason, Bias and Inquiry: The Crossroads of Epistemology and Psychology,” people come to know themselves by looking inward to internal thoughts, and come to know others by looking outward through observable behaviors.

The author explains, “the divergent routes of introspection and extrospection lead people to see others as biased and themselves as ‘right’ – especially when the self and other disagree in their perceptions and beliefs.”

For example, I saw this when We Believe, We Vote brought Mike Huckabee to Spokane in 2021. We wrote a news brief about it. More liberal readers were upset that the politician was coming to the city, and therefore were upset with us for announcing it, accusing us of leaning right. However, we have a responsibility to inform the public about events happening in the Inland Northwest. Ignoring news we don’t like doesn’t mean that news goes away. Reporting on news doesn’t mean we endorse what we’re writing about.

Right now on our site we have an Israel-Hamas war tab. We’ve published news stories about the rise of antisemitism on college campuses and about how Muslim leaders in Spokane are urging the City Council to rewrite their ‘pro-Israel’ resolution and consider Muslim voices, and so on.

On the commentary side, so far we’ve published four columns from the Muslim perspective and five from the Jewish perspective. We’ve also published Christian and Baha’i commentary on the conflict.

The response, from some, is that by giving voice to both sides we’re not taking a stand.

But taking a stand isn’t our role.

Giving voice to those in our local community is our job, as per our values statements, “… We give voice to the widest range of belief traditions with a particular interest in those whose voices have been muted or ignored.”

It boils down to free speech.

In 1860 Frederick Douglass gave a famous speech defending free speech after a mob tried to silence an abolitionist meeting. He called free speech the “moral renovator” of society because it allows us to challenge injustice, express opinions, organize movements, and check abuses of power.

For free speech to work, though, we need to listen to one another, even if we disagree.

An article from the Ford Foundation explained it this way, “So, when we listen to each other, we do more than extend a common courtesy; we give credence and power to that first and sacred right. We say, ‘You are a human, too, and deserve to be heard.’ We give dignity to others when we enable their voices, consider their perspectives, and thoughtfully grapple with their ideas. We participate in the ongoing exchange between people that defines our democracy, and allow ideas and actions to ripple through, even renovate, our society.”

This type of listening is a spiritual discipline that takes patience, humility and presence. We should all aspire to listen openly, critically and compassionately. It doesn’t mean we have to agree.

I truly believe, though, that learning how to listen to each other can build understanding between people with different views, can strengthen democracy and heal divisions.

Tracy Simmons, a longtime religion reporter, is a Washington State University scholarly assistant professor and the editor of FāVS News, a website dedicated to covering faith, ethics and values in the Spokane region.

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