Janie B. Cheaney - Listening matters more than winning | WORLD
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Janie B. Cheaney - Listening matters more than winning


WORLD Radio - Janie B. Cheaney - Listening matters more than winning

Arguments can tell us a lot about the people we consider our adversaries

Wenping Zheng/iStock image

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, January 19th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

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REICHARD: Unleash your talent! Here’s WORLD commentator Janie B. Cheaney on hearing the human being behind the simplistic slogans.

JANIE B. CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: Jordan Peterson achieved worldwide fame in 2018 when he debated British journalist Cathy Newman. They began with trans-activism and Peterson’s stand against government-dictated pronouns. They moved on to Western patriarchy, the gender-pay gap, and natural gender disparities. By the end, conservatives were enchanted by the way Peterson had “owned” Ms. Newman. He was both good-natured and articulate, parrying every challenge like Inigo Montoya forcing the reprehensible Count Rugen into a corner.

The video went viral, helping to make Peterson a best-selling author and a hall-packing public speaker. To rootless young men he was like a prophet, or simply a dad telling them to pull up their socks. To Christians, he was an intellectual who respected their faith even if he didn’t share it.

During the pandemic, we didn’t hear much from him, only disturbing reports that he was in rehab for a tranquilizer addition. Now, thankfully, he’s back on the interview and book-promotion circuit, fitter—and wiser.

Bari Weiss is a former New York Times contributor and now author of a blog called “Common Sense.” Late last December, she asked some of her friends how their minds had changed in 2021. Peterson answered, “I’ve learned how to have a discussion.”

One would think he had aced the art of discussion. But behind that courtly facade was a shark circling its prey. By his own account, Peterson didn’t want to have an argument, he wanted to win it. We saw that side of him in the debate with Cathy Newman when she was stymied by one of his questions: “Hah! I gotcha!” he said. With a smile.

That conversation might sound different if they had it now. Not because they would agree. Peterson disagrees with the staunch atheism of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. But recently he’s had long conversations with both and tried to listen to what they were saying. In some cases, it was different than what he’d thought they were saying.

“If I listen, instead of winning, I learn,” Peterson told Bari Weiss. “And that’s better than winning.”

For Christians, it shouldn’t be controversial that even our bitterest political and social enemies are made in God’s image. But what does it mean? At the very least, it means looking behind the placard—that square of pasteboard with the irritating slogan that always makes your blood boil—and seeing the person.

The worst of political ideology, from either side, is that it reduces people to positions. Those who disagree with us about the latest woke piety or Tucker Carlson monologue come to look more like a set of propositions than nuanced individuals. They may have come to their position by ways we can’t imagine. People are complicated under their simplistic slogans. By listening, we may not learn anything useful about their politics, but we’ll learn something about them. And that’s more than useful.

I’m Janie B. Cheaney.

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