You may have heard we have a Presidential election this year. I've given my thoughts about past elections, but as far as this one goes, it's a doozy. There isn't a person reading this who can honestly say he or she has seen a Presidential election season that is crazier than this one.
Look, I could sit here and write my own personal feelings about the candidates, or give some kind of assessment about how one candidate or the other will affect your life. I could tell you how I think Wall Street or Main Street will react to the election of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. I could give a bunch of reasons why the choice is important.
Would you listen to me? Could I change your mind? Would I confirm your own thoughts or would I just make you angry? Would you agree with me? I don't know…maybe.
But why do it? Telling you those things would be a one-way conversation, and if there's one thing we don't need more of right now, it's one-way conversations.
My job as a CFP is to have important conversations with people. To be successful at this, I need to be informative, intelligent, and helpful. But most importantly, I must listen. It is the critical skill I must have to understand my clients and help them.
Listening is one of the most important parts of living in a civilized society. Everything I have ever thought or will ever think was shaped by listening to other people: family, friends, teachers, TV folks, politicians, authority figures, authors, journalists, strangers. In a functioning democracy, it is critical that our leaders listen to us and that we listen to each other.
In every single aspect of our lives, the opinions of others matter. It's part of what makes us human. We listen to each other about restaurants, products, where to live, whom to trust, how to behave.
Nobody is entirely a self-made person; the people around us influence our opinions, choices, decisions, and actions (sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse). All of us can learn from listening to others…from their triumphs, or their mistakes.
At least since the Civil War, and certainly more now than ever, we identify as, first and foremost, citizens of the United States of America. "United" is the very first word in the title! We have to realize the existential truth that we are all in this together. Tearing each other down, calling each other names, refusing to engage in dialog because we perceive the other person is "on the other side" ignores the fact that we are joined together by a common desire of 'a more perfect Union." Read that again: "Union"
I find that when I listen to another person about her opinions, I invariably understand my own thoughts better. No matter how legitimate or vile I may think her opinion is, I can understand she cares about something or someone. I don't necessarily change my own opinion, and I don't need to validate what she thinks or give it credence. But hearing what she believes and why she believes it helps me understand myself. Listening to what other people think is a test of my own thoughts, and I'm always better off for the test. If we remember that we are all Americans and that we are all hopeful for a better tomorrow, we might listen to each other with more empathy. We might be able to achieve great things.
We don't all need to vote the same way. We don't all need to agree. Civil disagreement is a blessing! Some of my best conversations end with "I understand why you think that way but I don't agree with you." If we make the sincere attempt to listen and understand, to see the other person's point of view, then perhaps, in the end, we will all be better off for the effort.
So stop talking and listen to somebody. Ok, I'll shut up now.