Posted by: MC | October 21, 2012

How to Listen to Presidential Candidates

My work is in a graduate school.  I am responsible for helping prepare people to be educators, mental health professionals and community leaders.  We need them, so I give my very best to enabling their brilliance and their good hearts.

One of the questions I often ask my students is, “What do you want?”  I sometimes have them write for a while – a good while – in answer to this question.  “What’s left in this life that you want,” I ask and I reassure them that no one else will see this list unless they choose to share it.

What do I want?  What do you want?  For the most part, each of us still wants a whole lot of things.  We want our families to be healthy and happy.  We want that for ourselves, too.  We want embarrassing material things.  And we want practical things like shelter, food, clean air and water.  We want status and we want equity.  We want the peace of freedom from fear.  We want love.  It’s the kind of list that can go on for a while.  I encourage taking as long as is needed.

When finally the pens stop I say, “Ok, now look back over your list and circle the one thing you want the very most.”

I can’t take credit for this exercise, although I’ve used is a lot.  I was on the receiving end of these instructions from a uniquely wise woman back some 15 years ago.  After she asked us to look at our lists again and to circle the one we want most, she waited as we each drew our single circle and then she said, “This is what your life serves.”

She followed with, “It’s a good thing to know.”

So here we are on the eve or the third presidential debate in what the clever media are sensationalizing in every way imaginable – most recently capturing viewer interest with the sympathetic phrase “this interminable campaign.”  Clever.

The candidates, their considerable campaign staffs and unfathomable bankrolls, play right along and will show up again tomorrow night to say things at one another, at the unlucky debate moderator and, at least theoretically, at us.  This time the subject is foreign policy.

Here’s a thought on how we can listen.  What are these two men – Governor Mitt Romney and President Barak Obama — telling us they want?  Not what are they saying that they think we want — in foreign policy or anything else — but what is evident in their words and gestures to indicate what they want – what they live for?  Beyond wanting power.  Beyond wanting some idealized opportunity to set our weary country on a reliable path to recovery (Life Coach to a Nation).  What do these men hold most dear?  What does each man’s life serve?

I don’t know if it’s possible to discern this from listening to the last debate, but I’m going to give it a try.  It seems important to know what our leaders actually hold most dear.  Like the wise woman said, “It’s a good thing to know.”

And it matters.

Let me know what you hear.


  1. Thank you Mary. I love this thought about listening and will be doing so in a new way during the debates tomorrow night. Will keep you posted as to what I hear!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: