On the most recent episode of The Thrive Global Podcast with iHeart Radio, Brandon Stanton, creator of the viral photo-blog Humans of New York, sat down with Thrive Global CEO and founder Arianna Huffington to talk about why we need to be listening more and talking less during this fraught political time.
In March of 2016, Stanton posted an open letter to Donald Trump on Facebook. “I didn’t want to risk any personal goodwill by appearing to take sides in a contentious election. I thought: ‘Maybe the timing is not right.’ But I realize now that there is no correct time to oppose violence and prejudice,” Stanton wrote in the letter. “The time is always now. Because along with millions of Americans, I’ve come to realize that opposing you is no longer a political decision. It is a moral one.”
But now, Stanton has decided to step back and listen. “Every single thing [Trump] does gets sliced up in a thousand different ways, criticized in a thousand different ways, retweeted a thousand different times,” he said on the podcast. “My social media feed is filled with everybody talking about their opinions on this, and everybody talking. I got here by listening, and what I’m going to do is I’m gonna go back to listening.”
Listening is built into Stanton’s job. “For an hour, two hours, or three hours, or four hours, every single day, I am forced to forget about myself,” he said about walking around, talking to people and taking pictures for Humans of New York. “I am forced to get out of my own head and not worry about my ego or this or that, because you can’t really listen to somebody while thinking about yourself. To really listen to someone, you have to forget about yourself and focus completely on their story.”
When you focus on the person in front of you instead of yourself, you’re able to actually hear what they have to say, and it’s often surprising. Stanton, who recently visited Russia, said that while many people in the U.S. think about Russia in a very specific political context, “when you go on the streets of Russia and you ask people about their problems, they’re talking about their father’s illness, you know? They’re talking about their wife that is sick, or their wife that got kidnapped or disappeared. Their problems are very personal.”
Stanton told Huffington that he’s not as vocal about politics now because he thinks there are enough voices in the field. “There might be a time in the future where I feel like my voice can help again, but now I think the best thing I can do is take people, maybe marginalized people, people that are threatened, and just present them as they are and not as part of a political story.”
To hear the full conversation, click here.