A Call to Listen

Suzanne St. John-Crane (Class XXV / Urbanism XXXIV)

CEO, American Leadership Forum Silicon Valley

A few weeks ago I sat on my couch watching history unfold. Love her or hate her, Hillary Clinton is the first woman to be nominated to a major political party in our country’s 240 year history. We are outpaced in the gender leadership race by countries like Germany, Argentina, Panama, England, etc. Looks like America is starting to catch up.

Simultaneously, we are watching a painful, powerful conversation about the impartiality of judges play out in the media through both the Brock Turner crime and “punishment” and the Trump University suit. Evidence of white privilege, rape culture and racism in our country that shock some, but certainly not all. Many live this reality every day. As the mother of two daughters, friend to several women who have been sexually assaulted (1 in 5 women in the US have experienced sexual assault) and member of a multicultural family and community, I have my own strong opinions about how these current events have played out and what justice should look like. Today I call on myself – and others – to listen. Listen and let’s learn together.

I spent 24 years of my career in community television – the last bastion of free speech on cable. My job was to defend the right of any community member – regardless of their political persuasion, race, religion, gender or socio economic status – to have access to the airwaves. With that value, I live my life investigating other points of view and not closing down my Facebook feed to only those opinions I agree with. It allows me to truly know people, and while I may disagree with them, I try to listen. I try to listen without coming up with an immediate comeback.

I’d rather know your opinions on race. Don’t be subtle. Don’t hide. I’d rather know what Brock’s parents are really thinking. If I know who you are, and you know who I am, we can start a conversation that is based in our own realities; but only if we’re willing to listen.  Listening means not plotting a comeback while I’m talking. Listening means I need to ask questions to learn more about you. Listening is the suspension of judgment, and is about respect. Listening is how we start to understand, and I believe, the only way we can move forward.

The challenge and opportunity for our next presidential candidate is how to unite this country in more ways than reaching across political aisles. The opportunity to lead by example through deep listening, learning and bold initiatives for the common good is in the hands of our next president. America’s core values aren’t broken, but our strategies and execution need work. As Americans, how do we lead by example in this tumultuous political climate? How do we move forward if our candidate doesn’t get elected? (Hint: Moving to Canada may not be the solution.)

I’ve witnessed the ALF network of 650 Senior Fellows having spirited dialogues over the years on a variety of hot topic issues – from politics to race and equity to homelessness in Silicon Valley. The beauty of the network is – diversity. Intentional and celebrated diversity – in every sense of the word. We know in Silicon Valley that diversity makes us a richer, deeper, smarter community. It is these very differences of experiences and opinions and sectors, along with a respectful container, that allows productive discourse to take place.

Can we of opposing sides respond to this critical moment in our nation’s history by not choosing the left road or the right road…. but the high road?

Tell me. I’m ready to listen