Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ears That Don't Hear

I was at a conference recently as part of my work. The standard format for these types of gatherings is to organize each day into a number of sessions, each with several related presentations. After each speaker gives a talk, there is a time for the audience to ask questions before the next speaker gives their talk. During this conference a very telling statement was uttered by a speaker in response to a question after his talk:

"I don't understand what you said, but I disagree with your point."

While this elicited a round of chuckles from the room, I found the statement noteworthy enough to jot down in my journal. I think that this statement resonated with me because it is a statement that marks our times in so many different ways. Social media and online forums are riddled through from warp to weft with vicious and malignant responses to news stories, opinion pieces, and status updates from folks who seem to go out of their way to look for conflict and to stir hate. In many cases it seems that folks turn their flaming guns on others without taking even a moment to consider their words in more than the most cursory of ways. They skim an article and then they lace into the author with such vitroil and vehemence that I can only imagine that they are typing with their hair on fire. Innocent and innocous Twitter posts result in Level 10 responses to a Level 1 offering. The common denominator is that folks are quick to disagree and even quicker to go on the attack when they really do not understand in any way what was said.

The late author Stephen Covey said:

"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."

Are our replies so short-sighted because we are not patient to hear another out, because we are too dull to follow an argument, or because we like to call attention to ourselves in grand displays? I actually think that many of us respond in such a manner because we are conditioned to be contrary. In this regard the Chinese philospher Confucius urged that,

"When we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves."

I find that advice to be wise and game changing if we could just somehow embrace it.