Cities That Listen

Cities That Listen

by Lee Fisher, Senior Advisor to CEOs for Cities // 

“There’s battle lines being drawn. Nobody’s right when everybody’s wrong.”
– Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth”

 As we reflect on the recent presidential election and a new President, many enter this new year with mixed feelings of hope and anxiety. I want to share some thoughts about where we go from here.

Most of us live in a bubble. We engage in what is called “confirmation bias.” That is, we search for or interpret information in a way that confirms our own preconceptions. We actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms our views, and ignore or under weigh evidence that contradicts our views. This tendency to look for people and information that confirm our own views has been accelerated and enhanced by Google, Facebook, and other internet platforms who use the personal data they collect about us to tailor our online experiences.

The result is that most of us live in what is referred to as a “filter bubble.” We receive information that confirms our beliefs rather than challenges us, leaving us in digital echo chambers and ideological cul de sacs. It is my hope that we can use the presidential election as one of those teachable moments that helps us get out of our bubbles.

Regardless of whom you supported, one thing is very clear. President Trump inherits a divided country and a dysfunctional, hyper-partisan Congress. It’s too simplistic to label it as red vs. blue or liberal vs. conservative. We are divided along demographic and geographic fault lines- race, culture, gender, generation, education, income, and rural vs. urban.

Too many Americans feel left out of the growing economic prosperity in many of our cities and metro regions. There is a growing disconnect between older, primarily working class, whites and our increasingly diverse and globalized country. For these Americans, their vote was a primal scream not only for change but also for attention.

Rapidly accelerating technology and globalization, the blurred lines between objective news, biased news, and fake news, all-too-frequent police shootings of people of color and senseless murders of police officers, growing racial and cultural diversity–all these things have the capacity to unite us through hope, dignity, respect, and progress or to tear us further apart through anxiety, fear, bigotry, and scapegoating.

Virtually every war, every conflict, every argument, every debate, and every divorce comes down to just one thing- not listening. Today, especially in our national politics, we talk past each other, deliberately ignoring points of agreement for fear of losing political points and advantage. For our country to begin to heal, we must remind each other of our common destiny. We must appeal, in President Abraham Lincoln’s words, to ‘the better angels of our nature’.

Whether President Trump has a mandate is in the eye of the beholder. But all of us have a mandate to do a much better job of talking and listening to each other across demographic, racial, political, and ideological lines.

Our colleges and universities are educating a new generation of leaders who, as Steven Covey notes in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Peoplemust “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” I learned in law school that the best oral advocates are able to take a position with which they personally disagree. Law school moot court competitions require students to step outside the constraints of their own immediate, biased filter bubbles.

Our cities are attracting emerging leaders who value civility, diversity, inclusion, and respect as essential to our way of life. Our cities must be supportive, respectful places where we welcome and celebrate diverse cultures, religions, and viewpoints. That’s our best hope for America.


LEE FISHER is Senior Advisor to CEOs for Cities.

Originally featured in Cleveland Magazine Community Leader

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