When Did We Stop Listening?

“Please form two teams” asked our English teacher.

“Teams? What for?”,

“Debating”,

“WHAT?” erupted from the class.

Debating? We were a public school. We aren’t a posh private school. What would we be doing forming debate teams?

As it turned out we were taught quite a few things about the English language. Most importantly we learned two things:

  1. To debate you must understand all sides,
  2. Listen

Let’s take each point in turn. First, we must understand all sides of the debate. Each viewpoint. Research it. Discuss it within your team. Interrogate it. A firm understanding of each viewpoint helps to shape your own side and gives you a better way forward. I was taught that the truth can be seen very differently depending on your ‘point of view’ (see diagram below). To really know the ‘truth’ you must see it from all angles.

Secondly, Listening! Our teacher showed us that by listening a few things happen. We give the other person/people the time to put their argument forward. We forward them the respect of space and our presence. It also gives you the time to process, understand better, and even learn another view point you may not have considered.

Fast Forward to present day. I was having a good discussion with my eldest son about several important current issues the world faces. We discussed BLM, Gender inequality, and much more. Our current discussion was about the proposed 6pm Curfew for men in reaction to the recent horrendous killing of Sarah Everard in London, UK. He explained to me about a lad he knows doing an Instagram Live to talk about the curfew. This lad has is opinions about the curfew, and wanted to express them. He invited anyone to join and discuss the points. It would seem that it quickly descended into an all out slanging match, while the host listened and was quick blocked from replying by participants shouting over him. Subsequently he is receiving death threats.

My point here is not to debate wether we should or shouldn’t have a curfew. It is not to support this young man’s points of view. I was not there to fully comment on the situation. It is to discuss the need for listening.

We like to talk sides. Left or Right. Race vs race. Gender versus gender. Age groups, Gen-X vs Boomers. Millennials vs Gen-Y, X, Naughties, etc. etc. We all want to be heard, but who is doing the listening. We say things like ‘Snowflake’ when someone shows sensitivity, and then ask people to open up and express feelings. Did any stop to listen when Robin Williams suffered in silence? What about George Floyd when he said he couldn’t breath? The police didn’t listen. What about the sexual assault victims who call out these weirdos, only to be met with bullying? Who stopped and listened?

I was taught many years ago that we have two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. We should be able to hear and see more than we speak. So when do we recognise that listening is a superpower. That by listening we can start to understand. By listening we can give that person the time, space, and presence to be heard. We can take on new facts, and increase our understanding. We can’t do this by shouting at each other. We can’t do this by falling to knee-jerk reactions due to fear. And we can’t do this by categorising a whole group or section of society for the actions of one.

We do this by recognising there are problems. We do this by understanding the problems. We do this by listening to the victims, and people who suffer due to these problems.

A good discussion is what is needed now. Deep meaningful conversations, orientated around listening to the problems. Seeing the cause of the issue. And actionable outcomes to better society and humanity.

Disagree, Yes. Be aggressive and become the monster NO.

Listen More, Speak Less.

Reading Recommendation (Affiliate Link): The Lost Art of Good Conversation by Sakyong Mipham

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