Georgia Bar Journal, Vol 4 No.2; ©State Bar of Georgia, 1998-2010. Used by permission, all rights reserved.
The car radio is the object of much disagreement in the Cannon family. I am a talk radio junkie and no one else in my family shares this affliction. Whenever I drive Dawn’s car I always reset the radio to a talk radio station. This results in a frown followed by “I don’t see how you can listen to that stuff!” Being trained in the nuances of human language, I quickly realize that she does not wish to be entertained by Rush, Neal or J. Gordon, and I surrender control of the radio dial.
For some inexplicable reason I enjoy listening to people with whom I often disagree. Even though my blood pressure climbs and I sometimes talk back to the radio, I seem to be unable to kick the habit. Just as school children run to a playground fight, I cannot resist the sound of intellectual combat.
Talk radio has its roots in the beginning of our American republic. Taverns throughout the colonies were places of lively discussion. Sports bars didn’t exist so the topic often discussed was politics. I imagine that the debate was intense I Boston when the tea tax was imposed. Wouldn’t you have enjoyed the heated exchanges in Philadelphia taverns in early 1776 over the subject of rebellion? Out of this wonderful intellectual energy came our Constitution and our country’s reverence for free speech.
Free speech is wonderful but it has little value unless there is also an abundance of listening. The First Amendment protects not only our right to express out own ideas. It also protects our right to listen to other person’s ideas-especially those who disagree with the majority point of view.
Increasingly on talk radio I hear too much talking and not enough listening. A radio host introduces the topic of the day and invites listeners to call with their comments. The remainder of the show consists of callers echoing the very same thoughts expressed by the host and ridiculing anyone who would dare think differently. Rarely am I treated to a caller who disagrees. Even more rare is the host who admits that someone with a different viewpoint may be correct on some issue. What a wasted opportunity.
Talk radio and spirited public debate can invigorate our system of government and our citizens. It offers a wonderful opportunity for people in Los Angeles to know what folks in Valdosta think. Information that is briefly mentioned on the six o’clock news can be discussed in depth. However, little is accomplished if no one is listening to all of the information offered.
I yearn for the day when talk radio will be alive with differing ideas–when the host will be hard pressed to defend ideas and callers will disagree with each other. Defending your intellectual choices requires that you listen to those who disagree and that is the element missing from the airwaves today. Instead of Rush hearing “dittos” I want him to hear people who disagree with his position on issues. I want to hear someone on the radio–I don’t care if it’s a caller or host–say, “I will concede you are right on that point but what about…?”.
Perhaps talk radio has something to learn from lawyers. We encourage debate. In fact, our legal system is built on the assumption that the best way to determine the truth is to have vigorous advocates on both sides of an issue. But lawyers also encourage listening. In arguing before the bench or a jury we listen to the argument of the other side, craft our response and often concede those issues where the other side is clearly correct.
The same approach is taken with transactional matters. Lawyers will exchange drafts of documents after carefully reading the other side’s proposal. At the same time, the prudent transactional lawyer will advise the client when the other party has raised a valid point.
I see the same level of advocacy during debate at meetings of the State Bar Board of Governors. Positions are vigorously argued and the Board is often closely divided. However, members complement each other on their presentations and are often willing to admit when some portion of the opposing view is correct. This type of debate is healthy and productive and the consensus that usually follows leads to wise decisions.
Lawyers have a wonderful tradition of lively debate and careful listening. Good Lawyers listen to their opponent before responding. Good judges listen carefully before making a decision. Good citizens should do likewise.