The folks in that faraway – some would say detached – area of our nation called Washington, D.C., are making a big hubbub about congressional Democrats and Republicans possibly co-mingling when they sit for the annual State of the Union address.

The folks in that faraway – some would say detached – area of our nation called Washington, D.C., are making a big hubbub about congressional Democrats and Republicans possibly co-mingling when they sit for the annual State of the Union address.

Somehow sitting next to a person with an opposing political philosophy will demonstrate unity to the nation following the tragic shooting in Arizona.

The seating idea is a good thought, but it will mean little because as soon as Barack Obama opens his mouth, the hearts of minds of many of those legislators will hunker back down behind their flimsy ideological bunkers. The ideal of unity will be quickly lost and soon the events of Arizona will be little more than an article on Wikipedia.

Regardless of what a few double-talking men and women choose to do tonight, it’s time for Americans to stand up and show our supposed leaders what unity really can look like. On the local level, we must work to increase dialogue while respecting differing opinions.

Unity starts with dialogue. Dialogue starts with listening.

This type of work goes far beyond sitting next to a Republican or Democrat while knocking back a frosty beer while watching the Kansas City Chiefs play at Simply Refurbished Arrowhead Stadium. You’re going to have to do more than read that newspaper columnist you usually ignore or – gasp! – watch the trash that is cable news commentary.

We’re all going to have to open our eyes and ears and start to listen to one another. Not hear, but really listen to the ideas and thoughts that roll out of our mouths of our friends and neighbors.  

You can’t understand why Republicans are truly opposed to Obama’s health-care plan if you don’t listen to their arguments. You can’t understand why Missouri struggles to fund public K-12 education if you don’t listen and review budget information. You can’t understand why some folks in Eastern Jackson County are pining for an expanded passenger rail system if you don’t read the newspaper or attend information meetings.

You can’t understand why some folks despise dogs unless you read “Under the Sun.” OK, that’s not exactly the case, but you get the point.

Simply, it will take a far greater effort to inspire unity than mixing up our legislators, kindergarten-style. You can only truly become open to opposing ideas when you choose to receive them. From that point, we as Americans – and global citizens – can get on the same page and begin to generate the change needed to make our little part of the universe a safer, healthier place.

Isn’t that listening a lot easier than switching chairs.