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Listening to Each Other

Dec 6, 2016
Civility Message

Dear Friends,

Believe it or not, during my high school years, I was a squeaky tenor in the Harry T. Burleigh a cappella choir, named in honor of the African American composer, arranger, and baritone soloist. The director of the well synchronized choir was Mrs. Gwendolyn Jackson, an accomplished contralto in her own right. Mrs. Jackson use to tell us during rehearsals, “Boys and girls, if you can’t hear the voice of the singers around you, it means that you are too loud.”

There are many things that contribute to the lack of functionality but few are easier to identify than the failure to hear other voices. During committee hearings and even during floor debate, it is noticeable that Members don’t tend to listen for comprehension but rather for reciprocation. For those who are married or in a long time relationship, you know that you can’t just listen to the spoken words of your partner. You must listen to their spirit to determine what they are really saying.

Shortly after I was first elected, I went to the floor to listen to a bill under debate. It was shocking for me, a former mayor, to hear people debating a bill as if they were arguing two separate pieces of legislation. Obviously, they thought they were engaging in a discussion of the same bill. Had they listened to each other they would have realized that they were not listening, they were simply waiting for their turn to talk. A man bragged that he had the finest hearing aid known to humankind. A friend asked what kind is it. He replied, “Oh, my watch says about 3:15.”  

Warmest Regards,

Emanuel Cleaver, II Member of Congress