I find myself singing to myself a lot these days. The 1975 hit song from the group War had a simple message, “Why can’t we be friends? Why can’t we be friends?

For some time I’ve felt we have lost some ability to listen to others and learn from differences of opinion. However, the debate and rhetoric that’s occurred over the health care debate threw many of us over the edge. I don’t understand why we can’t all be friends.

Instead, Sarah Palin’s Facebook page shows crosshairs over the districts of targeted Democrats and threats have been called in to Congressman who didn’t vote the way some think they should. Others claim no one’s listening to them while some quietly exclaim their happiness over the direction of the country.

Have we lost the ability to respect each other even though we might have differences of opinion? Can we no longer listen to others and learn from what those with whom we don’t agree might have to say? Instead, it seems we resort to name calling, scare tactics, violence and attacks on others to show our concern.

As a public relations professional I believe we have a responsibility to 1) listen, 2) engage in positive and fruitful discussions. It is only through those discussions that we can strengthen our community and continue enjoying the freedoms on which our country is built. As counselors, we need to be working with our clients and employers to help them remember to listen, and to hear what all sides are saying.

I do believe many politicians are listening to Americans. Legislation I want doesn’t always go my way but it is always completed following comprehensive research and thoughtful debate. In the end, there is often no right or wrong. But what’s missing lately is respect, and thanks for a job well done.

We must begin to listen again, respect each other’s views and even learn from what others are saying. We need to remember the manners our parents taught us…say please and thank you and treat others the way we expect to be treated ourselves.

To build strong communities we need to remember these fundamental beliefs and help each other when we’re down. We can stop the rhetoric and instead take a few minutes to learn from someone different from us.

Why can’t we be friends? Why can’t we be friends? Or…maybe you can hear Aretha Franklin singing R-E-S-P-E-C-T as well.

Photo credit: Gwennypics