Paralleling the podcast is the idea that season 2 is a re-pilot show that reintroduces characters in an organic way. Both episodes of the podcast work to humanize TV and Hollywood, like West Wing might do with politicians (idk though, I don’t watch it). We listen and learn about how commercials affect viewer perception or hear actors revisit their own learning experiences on set. We’re so often only consuming the finish product. But Sorkin challenges the idea that a finish product even exists. He considers his writing as comprised mostly of first drafts. He insists rewriting is only necessitated by production. However, it can also be rewritten by the interpretation of actors, their body language, their costumes, etc. We understand this more clearly through Emily Procter’s experiences.  How may outside factors, besides professor/ peer suggestions, compel us to rewrite? Do you have concrete examples? I think we can also apply revisitation to people and the narratives we tell about ourselves. What have we encountered that compelled us to create a new narrative about ourselves? Where do we encounter these thins? And is that something we can somehow use to inform our writing decisions when we are attempting to be persuasive? Perhaps it’s a deep interrogation of ourselves we experience when we encounter competing arguments that represent generous listening. If we’re not doing that interrogative work, maybe it’s a sign that we’re not witnessing a balanced argument.

In some ways we can interpret “not knowing how it will end” vs. “knowing how it will end but not what’s in the middle” as inductive versus deductive reasoning. A concept in the scientific method has manifested itself in writing and the arts. This may help us think about the interdisciplinary nature of our world, similar to the spirituality Tippet brings into her conversations. We can use this as inspiration for our own projects when we’re seeking to engage in writing in a different way.

Sorkin believes that if an episode ends up being important it just turns out that way. I interpret this as a call to action. It’s an invitation to take risks. When we think about success, we might see it as antithetical to doing something are unfamiliar with. We face what seems like inevitable failure. But failure is what challenged Sorkin.

Sorkin provides us with a blueprint for being brave by encouraging risk and humanizing those we may disagree with. But where do we draw the line between humanizing groups of people/thinking of them as individuals and normalizing something we may think is toxic and oppressive? How do we accomplish this?

Kennedy Clark

Kennedy is a Sociology major with an ineptness for exposition and an excessive love for Michigan basketball and pretzels.

6 thoughts to “www.generouslistening.com”

  1. Hey Kennedy,

    I think Sorkin’s concept of re-writing being necessitated by production is somewhat comparable to the way that professor/peer suggestions drive our re-writes in class. He is often tailoring his work to his audience, studio, actors etc the way we are expected to tailor graded work to those it is meant for. Also similar to Sorkin’s production deadlines, our writing is often time constrained and how it is received by our audience is used to evaluate our performance. Would people agree that similar to how our writing is often framed for others rather than ourselves, that the West Wing is tailored to the hopes and wishes of others rather than being written solely in Sorkin’s vision?
    When I think of revisitation with regards to writing, I can’t help but recall the countless times that I’ve re-read a piece I had written in the past and not being able to recall my motivation or purpose of the writing. This often leads to pretty radical re-writing and revision, which I also feel can often dramatically improve my writing. Sometimes I feel almost as if I am reading my own work with a fresh set of eyes. Perhaps like when we “create a new narrative about ourselves,” with the passing of time comes new ideas, growth, and maturity; and so naturally we produce a new, hopefully improved product.
    In response to your second question, I think “the line” that we draw to determine when we will normalize and humanize people and their beliefs or reject something we disagree with is largely dependent on us as individuals. What I mean by this is that I think the answer varies from person to person. Similar to those we might not agree with but seek to understand, all of us have had our own experiences which have built the foundations of our beliefs and principles. For example, some of may be far more willing to listen to and understand those who disagree with us on issues we do not feel as strongly about, whereas someone who shares our opinion may be less able to understand opposition because for personal reasons. To accomplish the humanization of those we disagree with, I think it is of the utmost importance that we are able to consider any and all reasons for why people hold the beliefs that they do. We’ll never be perfect in that regard, but so long as we do not act dismissively, we can expect progress and understanding.

  2. Hi Kennedy,
    You bring up some really intriguing questions and I enjoy your take on Aaron Sorkin’s ideas surrounding first drafts — many of which were necessitated due to his super busy schedule writing two television seasons at one time. To answer your first question, I feel like outside of peer suggestions there are instances when new inspiration for your writing comes from reading someone else’s work after completing a draft or having an event occur in your life that changes your opinion or alters your way of thinking in some way. This especially happens when I am writing an opinion piece about something I am really invested in, such as mental health. For example, when writing a personal narrative about my experience with mental health for my gateway project, I was halfway through the essay when I read a couple pieces about stigmatization of OCD in the media. This made me think about some new thoughts I wanted to incorporate into my writing, causing for a revisit to my draft.
    I also think the idea of “revision” is important to think about in the context of generously listening. Relating to my previous example, often times when I am consuming new media I find new opposing opinions I have never thought of before. These opinions are important in not only shaping the writing I am working on at the time, but also the writing that can (and more than likely will) occur in the future. To be well-versed on opposing viewpoints, and to incorporate those viewpoints into your writing through continual revision, is to be generously listening to the world around you. In short, impactful revision goes hand-in-hand with generous listening. Do you all agree?
    As a sidebar, I wanted to quickly comment on your attention to detail regarding Sorkin’s commentary. When Sorkin said that he never goes into writing an episode thinking “this will be special,” I didn’t immediately see this comment as a call to action — but I like that thought process! As a very Type A person who thrives on structure and doesn’t enjoy risk, Sorkin’s writerly “conundrum” (if you will) where he had to constantly create new content without any revision inspires me to start writing. Even when we don’t have the most perfect words to say or the plot entirely figured out with a detailed outline, it is important to take the leap and just. Start. Writing. To quote Sorkin, it’s much better to be on page two than page zero.
    To answer your last questions regarding normalizing something that may be potentially toxic while still generously listening to opposing viewpoints, I think this is really a golden question during this divisive time in the U.S. It is SO easy to completely tune out the opposing side of my belief system because a lot of what they are saying is not just wrong in my opinion, but also perpetuating systems that are dangerous to society. However, in order for a democracy to truly exist, we need to hear both sides and take them in as equally valuable. I think a first step in doing this is analyzing the level of awareness and education the opposing side has when describing their thoughts. Have they had the privilege of receiving a higher education? Are they also practicing the act of generous listening and trying to understand your viewpoint too? And to reference Tippett, what experiences may have happened that led them to think and feel this way that opposes your belief? I think after these questions are considered, you can begin to understand the importance of still humanizing the opponent or not. What are some other questions you all can think of?

    1. Y’all, I’m loving this conversation, and Kennedy, way to run with it as your first MHP turn. 🙂 What I especially appreciated about your post was the way you infuse questions throughout your examination of the material. I found both sets of questions to be absolutely compelling. One thing I see you working towards here is using your intro to craft a larger argument of sorts, as MHP does in her “Formation” piece. I might pose this question: How are the two sets of important questions you raise here LINKED (and I think they are/can be)?

      Also, I want to just push back a touch on the idea that ALL viewpoints should be considered valuable: Is white supremacy valuable? (Perhaps, if we’re defining “valuable” as something that can be identified/leveraged to shed light on the ills of our society…? But even that, to my mind, is a stretch.) So what do we really mean when we say we should be open to “all” viewpoints? I think Kennedy’s question about normalization is beyond important in our current socio-political climate…

      1. Hi Shelley,
        I completely agree with you when you say that not ALL ideas and viewpoints can be considered valuable. I think after reading that point, there is one thing I would like to add to the end of my blog post: Once questions about the person’s past experience and education are explored, it is important to determine whether or not these beliefs that are considered harmful to society are coming from a place of blatant disregard of what they have learned from the opposition or just plain ignorance. I think especially in this country’s current state, there are MANY people who have just not had the ability to be exposed to opposing viewpoints and aren’t able to be educated on why their ideas are toxic. I think it is these people that need to be generously listened to the most as they provide the ground for true change through education (although this does not always work, it’s worth a shot if we are going to unite this country!). So basically normalization is never a good thing. But we need to realize that some people do not know their beliefs are toxic and generous listening could help bridge that gap.

    2. I think you’re exactly right that “impactful revision goes hand-in-hand with generous listening.” And this is something that often strikes me about elections and politics in general, is the idea that someone can never change their mind about something without it being disingenuous. Politicians are always held accountable for their past (perhaps not by everyone, but definitely but certain citizens), and sometimes rightly so. Their credibility takes a hit. But in the words of Junot Diaz, “we our society’s children more than we like to admit. ” We’ve unleanred and relearned a lot, but we can never transcend socialization, we can only manage it. And there’s a lot of labor that goes into that, as well as generous listening. There’s a cost to both. There’s a sacrifice. I feel like a lot of the time we don’t talk about the emotional labor. It can be really painful and discomforting.

      I also think hierarchies of oppression hold us back when we’re trying to be empathetic with our differences. A lot of that feels connected to our compulsion to reject the idea that our oppressions are linked, and so are our liberations. That assertion in and of itself compels us to search within ourselves.

  3. Sorkin’s idea of re-writing was definitely the idea that intrigued me most while listening to his podcast. I think that the concept of continuing to write even when you are not writing well is difficult for busy college students like ourselves to understand. Although the world of a collegiate writing minor and the world of a television writer are vastly different, in reality the process of writing is relatively the same. Sorkin writes an episode of the West Wing to deliver to the show, to be created on screen, whether he is completely satisfied with the finished product, the show must go on for his anxiously awaiting audience. As writing minors and academics we also face the pressure of a deadline.
    In the writing/ English courses I have taken for the writing minor, revision is a concept that is heavily enforced but often difficult to abide by when as a writer you have a certain vision. I agree with Maddy, in that if it is not a professor or peer advising me to rewrite, it is the inspiration from reviewing another’s work. If I receive negative/ constructive feedback on things that need to be adjusted, I often try to channel a patronous and emulate the techniques they use. For example, my junior year I took the English class “Art of the Essay” which involved my entire class reading and critiquing the essay I wrote. I received a lot of critique and different suggestions on how I could improve things, but amongst all that critique the most valuable information was to return to the root of my inspiration for the piece and to channel my initial hopes for the finished product. I think this also plays into the concept of revisitation as well. I went back to my stylistic inspiration, which for that assignment was an essay by Joan Didion.
    I think one of the best pieces I have written was an essay about my family for an English class. Obviously my purpose for writing was the assignment I had to turn in, but what compelled me to pick that specific topic? I would be revealing to 20 strangers the darkest and most confusing parts of my life, and for what? But I realized through revisitation of my work that my best writing came from making the private public. I think the concept of generous listening also contributes to the revision and revisitation process. The ability to analyze and acknowledge two sides of an argument is a lesson that I learned from Sorkin and will attempt to emulate in my future writing. Sorkin truly listened to who he worked with and was able to write effectively about both sides, even though some of the things he wrote went against his own beliefs.
    To answer your last question regarding the differentiation between humanizing and normalizing certain groups, I think that is what makes Sorkin so talented. Like I express earlier he has the ability to acknowledge both sides, I don’t know if a line needs to be drawn, but rather an education needs to be broadened. I am not implying that in order to understand the other side you need to be a political savant, but utilize generous listening in order to determine for yourself when and if a line needs to be drawn. Like Maddy touched upon and something that really stuck with me from Krista Tippett, only you understand your own experiences, and I think with that understanding that we can accomplish generous listening of the experiences of others to determine our stance on the line between normalizing and humanizing.

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