How To Fix Society: Learning to Listen and Understand Each Other

By Jaclyn R. Barrows. Jaclyn is graphic designer and production artist for an independent multimedia production company known as R.A.W. Productions. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

“Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” –Stephen R. Covey.

Yes, this does happen rather frequently; unfortunately, altogether too often, most of all because conversation does not occur between people from any and all walks of life anymore. This is because everyone is so guarded and sensitive about not only whatever their opinion may be, but other people’s view of themselves once their opinion is voiced as well. This is likely to have started the infamous concept of  “safe spaces” on college and university campuses, as students wanted a safe place to voice whatever opinions they had, even if those opinions were not backed by facts or truth. I say infamous because this concept has only led to further divides and greater sensitivity between any person giving an opposed opinion to another, and thus has had it backfire on them. This, of course, grew to epic proportions as the world became more and more ridiculously political in its rhetoric, and soon we were all thrust into an environment where everyone is walking on eggshells around everyone else. This has never been a new concept, mind you; people have done this to one another since man could first communicate. However, this has indeed escalated to new levels in recent years. Yes, Stephen Covey judged rightly on this concept.

Let’s unpack Covey’s statement further. I myself have experienced this when dealing with friends and family members who have a habit of talking over me when I am in the middle of a sentence. I could be stating a truth or fact about something, and because people aren’t paying attention to the fact that another person is talking, they simply jump in and make their statement without hesitation. This could likely be because the friend or family member has somehow zoned out, and in order to look like they paid attention in the conversation, tried to force themselves into the conversation at an awkward point. (I’ve actually been guilty of that myself.) The other reason is, again, because everyone is becoming so guarded about what they have to say, that they feel the need to defend themselves and at least appear intelligent to the other person (I’ve also been guilty of this myself); this desire to be viewed as intelligent is so strong in some people, that they are willing to be rude and interrupt people mid-sentence. In other words, perhaps some would do well to learn proper conversational etiquette, and make a habit of waiting until others had at least finished their statement before making one of their own, no matter what the reason.

Now that we have a grasp on why people behave this way in conversations with others, let’s take a look at what kind of damage this has done on individual and societal levels. On an individual level, the impact varies as per personality. Some shy away from conversation with others altogether, as they view it as pointless to have one anymore. They keep their conversations with others light-hearted and superficial, and most, if not all of their views on the world are kept hidden within themselves. They sacrifice their sense of connectedness with others in favor of self-preservation. They do this often to their detriment, as this particular sacrifice, in an effort to keep the peace, eventually leads to feelings of loneliness, sadness, and perhaps anxiety and depression as well. This also creates an inability to trust others and form deep, lasting relationships. Yes, peace is ultimately achieved, but only to a degree, and not without people feeling disconnected from the world around them.

That leads to the next sort of people on the opposite end of the spectrum: the bold ones. These are the ones most people read on E-Cards and various memes; they become rude in return and highly sarcastic towards others when they try to talk over them. They could be giving their own views on the world, or they could deal strictly in facts and truth, with no room for deviation even with the other person. These folks try to achieve peace in a conversation through getting others to shut up after such people interrupt them. There is a lot of anger and indignation with this sort of person, and many with this kind of temperament get fired up at the wearing of a MAGA hat, or the drop of another. It is very difficult to have a proper conversation with this kind of person, as it seems anything and everything will trigger them at some point in time. I’ve personally dealt with such people, as some happen to be close friends of mine, as well as family. There are certain topics we cannot discuss without both of us inevitably yelling at one another, or worse yet, not communicating for long periods of time. The thing to remember about this sort of person is that they are jaded; they’ve heard the other person’s opinion, statement of truth or facts, and in many cases simply don’t want to hear it.

The societal level generally favors the second, much bolder sort of person listed above. As mentioned in the very first paragraph, people in general have become so very guarded of their own opinions as well as too willing to attack others for having opinions of their own. It has grown similar to the concept of Hate Week as illustrated in George Orwell’s ever-timely book, 1984. In short, society, whether online through social media, or in a large crowd of protesters, has developed an even stronger mob or tribal mentality which uses political ideology and identity politics as its banner. This creates divisions between them and the other folks who prefer to remain anonymous, the latter seeking only to calmly give their input on a topic, preferably without swift retribution for having done so. Instead, the quieter group is often called out and put on loudspeaker by the angry mob, and is punished in the court of public opinion for it.

You see, I hope, what kind of damage this refusal to truly listen and understand others has done to society and the individuals within it.

There is no question that what Covey stated was indeed true in regards to the state of conversation amongst people. People really do have a tendency to listen only to reply, rather than seek an understanding of one another. It is a tendency that must be broken in order to achieve a better society that welcomes proper dialogue, where truth, facts, and even opinions can be stated with certainty, without retribution for having done so. We need a society that allows acceptance of others’ views, but also allows the truth to shine through. This is what made the great societies of old. The very fact that our society doesn’t have this mentality is a sure sign of its decay.

How do we overcome this hurdle? It is tough to say; I could give a 3-step list that everyone should follow in order to achieve a better society, but that requires everyone to be on board on both an individual and societal level. What it boils down to is this: everyone needs to take a good look at themselves in the mirror and realize we are all guilty of producing a world with these sorts of problems. On an individual level, we must make changes within ourselves and learn to lead by example. It will take time (a long time most likely), but the world will eventually follow. It has to start on an individual level first, however; the only person we are allowed to have any sort of control over regarding words, actions, behaviors and character, is ourselves. The others can only be led by example, as they are then given the choice whether or not to follow. Yes, I do agree with Covey’s statement, but it’s nothing we can’t change within ourselves in order to create a better world.

8 comments on “How To Fix Society: Learning to Listen and Understand Each Other

  1. Mark Bales on

    Jackie, this is a wonderful, well thought out and expressed opinion. My best wishes for your success and you have my vote, hope you win.

  2. Sandra Shaw Homer on

    I like her emphasis on the ‘disconnect’ in public — and even private — discourse. This is societal breakdown, where people are living in fear of bullying or some other kind of retribution. Social media have exacerbated the loss of common (?) courtesy and civility.

  3. Jackie Barrows on

    Thank you for those who left a comment on my article! It’s been a while since I had taken a look, so I wanted to say thanks 🙂

    To Clarence Barrows:
    Thank you! I hope this piece helps a lot of people realize the state of communication in our world today. We need a lot of help on this front!

    To Julie Barrows:
    Hopefully everyone will learn (or re-learn) to listen to others before speaking. I believe it is in Scripture where it states that it is best to “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry”.

    To Mark Bales:
    Thank you so much! Glad to have your vote! I certainly did my best 🙂

    To Sandra Shaw Homer:
    Yes, there is a major disconnect in everyone’s communication with others. It is going to take a lot of breaking out of this mindset in order to see any progress towards a better, more truly connected world. We can’t live in fear forever; it’s just not healthy.

  4. Katie Bertrand on

    Great information and perspective here, Jackie! I enjoyed the read & especially like that you touched on people who voice their opinions loudly & those who shy away from voicing their’s altogether because they feel it’s pointless. Definitely touched on some solid key points!

    • Jackie Barrows on

      Thanks Katie! Proper communication is key to allowing everyone to be heard while also showing respect for one another’s varying perspectives and beliefs. It’s something the entire human race needs a lot of work on, especially in these times.


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