We might have imagined that debate about changing the law of the land would be ponderous and reserved, set in marble halls and paneled chambers that echo with the steps of historic statesmen. But not so in Springfield in May.
At least, not in the Illinois House on legislators’ last day in session. There, the noise level ranged from “busy restaurant” in the morning to “state fair” in the evening. Talking, talking, all the time talking. Even when a lawmaker was at his or her microphone trying to make a point, they had to speak over the constant buzz of other voices. (One House member frequently interjected something that sounded like “E-I-E-I-O!” which we never figured out.)
The elected representatives were obviously used to the din, and they worked their way through the schedule. But for the uninitiated seated in the gallery above them, the question was “With all this talking, how is anyone listening?”
It’s not just a legislative problem; it’s easier for all of us to talk than to listen. Listening means deferring to someone else, and that’s hard, especially when there’s an important point to be made. People on both sides of the marriage debate in Illinois had a lot to say this spring. But during a reprieve from legislative debate, lawmakers and advocates are likely to do a little more listening.
When sponsoring Rep. Greg Harris declined to call the same-sex marriage bill for a vote May 31, he explained his fellow representatives wanted a chance to go home and meet with their constituents. They will no doubt do some talking, but hopefully they plan to hear what voters have to say, too.
Danny Holliday, a Southern Baptist pastor in Alton, Ill., who’s been a regular presence in Springfield during the debate, told the Illinois Baptist that “God got the victory” when the bill didn’t come up for a vote. But in the coming days, he’s hoping to start a dialogue with people on the other side of the issue.
Perhaps it’s harder to listen in the heat of the argument. Words fly, even important words, but they fall on deaf ears because those who should be listening are instead gathering their response. A break in the action could be what both sides need right now. If we are to have any understanding of the issues, and the people and emotions behind those issues, we’ll all have to spend more time listening than talking.