By Katie O'Brien

If you sit back and listen, you’d be surprised by how much you learn. I’ve always been a firm believer in the statement that you can hear someone but that doesn’t mean you’ve, you know, heard them. There is so much importance in actively listening to people, whether it’s your closest friends or strangers. People have a lot to say, and a lot of times no one to say it to.

Recently, the journalist Thomas Friedman came to campus and spoke at our annual May Day Conference. He spoke a lot on the war on press and politics, but he brought up a lot of points I believe can be applied to an abundance of topics. One of the things he said while talking about his work as a journalist was “All the stories I got wrong was when I was talking instead of listening,” and I think a lot of people, including myself, has been in this situation. We are social being and we like to talk, but in doing so we miss out a lot on what others have to say. Pulling yourself out of the situation and just hearing what someone else has to say can be very beneficial to understanding them. I’ve had a lot of friends over the years who weren’t the biggest conversationalists when it came to groups or even one on one, but when I took the time to ask them what their view of a situation was, I left that conversation with a new perspective. This can be significant at a friendship level, but it can also be incredibly impactful in a larger setting.

Take, for instance, the experience of someone who was a refugee fleeing from their home country to safety. This past summer I went to a storytelling event where I listened to three immigrants telling their story of making it to the U.S. and the hardships they faced. I was blown away by their stories and left thinking about it for days after they spoke. Just by taking the time to listen I gained a whole new perspective on a group of people I didn’t know very much about, and an idea of what I could do to help people in similar situations.

Another thing that Thomas Friedman brought up was a quote that he heard from someone else that changed his life. He said, “We need to understand more so we can fear less.” Our world has seen a lot of violent and terrible acts towards people that don’t follow the norm or have different beliefs than others, and it just shows the lack of understanding us as humans have for each other. How many lives could be saved if we didn’t fear what people of other groups were like? How much more peaceful would the world be if we just sat back and tried to understand each other? The answer is probably a lot. I know it’s easier said than done, but I think if everyone took a little bit of time out of their day and actively listened to someone who is different from them, they’d have a much better understanding of the world, and a better view of others in general. All you have to do is listen.