Stephen R. Covey’s quotation is indeed a pragmatic insight into human being’s innate behavior. Starting from me, most people get annoyed by such kind of act. After a long tiring commendable argument to convince someone, I end up facing another insurmountable counter-argument which fades up my hope of changing his outlook on the subject matter. While my intention was to lead the conversation towards mutual understanding, I regret putting the person on defensive terms. Why do persons listen with the intent to answer or put in other words, to play defensive role whenever faced with a new viewpoint? Such phenomena beg an in depth look into nature of human beings.
The psychological underpinning of human life is a good answer to such occurrences. Unless a blaze of wondering as to the origins of what Marx call superstructures of society enflames your curiosity, the true reason behind such defensive behavior remains to be a secret. Religion, the state, and the law are what Marx calls superstructures of society.
Humans, ever since the commencement of their history, have been haunted by disease of insecurity, which befriended them with insidious feeling of void, nothingness and helplessness, etc. Such demise of their collective self-esteem had to face the day to day dynamic change of their social environment which worsens their void. They had to create an atmosphere of certainty where everything is familiar to them or at least the dynamics of daily fluctuation is unearthed to them, lest every bit of their past evolution will be put in question. From where they came from and to where they are heading is the soil of their striving for certainty to rectify their psychological impairment to be secure and live their lives without much attention to the path they are to follow.
Humans found such panacea, i.e. certainty, in the outskirts of religion, tribalism, statehood, etc. The psychological underpinning of modern man is full of insecurity which is illusively veiled by artificial socially constructed identity. Hence, in order to fight his internal insecurity every person embraces such social identity to his personal attitude. Behavior of any person is sum-total of the principles of the religion he adheres, the tribe or clan he lives in or/and the state he belongs to under the platform of culture.
Listening to understand will not suffice for such identity-laden personal attitude. Every person craves approval without further inquiry. Psychologically, any person falls in love with a person who admires, adores or shortly approves of him. No one loves to be scrutinized, criticized or have the spotlight turned on him. Why? Unless there is something hidden which is feared not to be uncovered, what is the reason for uneasiness with criticism, or counter argument?
Human beings, for their uncertainty to be healed, there must be something unchangeable and ascertainable rely on and enjoy the spring of certainty like what Archimedes, Greek mathematician, has once said “give me a place to stand on, and I will move the earth”. Unless humans have something they are proud of and sure of it being a shield from uncertainty, they cannot move on to face hardships of life.
Listening involves taking due consideration of ideas being raised by your counterpart in order for the mutual discussion of the parties to reach in to an understanding or consensus, lest it will remain only hearing for purpose of replying. As said above, everybody wears crafted social identity to protect his inner nothingness, void or insecurity and everybody knows such a veil can be pierced if heavily attacked. Such piercing of the veil would have serious consequence of returning back to the pre-superstructures era where inner life of humans is blurred and demonized by insecurity. As a reply to such devastating likelihood, humans have developed a defensive attitude in their every dealing with their fellow creatures. It is an involuntary unconscious act. Nobody is fully aware of that he is being defiant while in argument. He gets involved with good intention of gaining something from the discussion, in the end he turns out to be zealous adherent of his principles which emanate from his social identity, the veil to his insecurity.
In this diversified world, where different cultures carrying different identities prevail, it is difficult for people to listen for purpose of understanding rather than replying. As the social identities underpinning such cultures are constructed by humans, they have to be also preserved by them from being exposed to new ideas which would demolish their entire base. Hearing to reply so as to protect the status quo has to be mimicked. Understanding has a far-fetched effect. It means embracing new way of insight about any subject matter. However, every source of social identity, be it religion, state, tribalism has its own insight about everything. How do we expect humans to hear their fellows for sake of understanding while they have superstructures who begs to be heard?
Had there been one identity by which humans could be identified, the prospect of listening to understand would have been better, as persons who are, for example, from same religion would be able to listen each other and exchange ideas so as to reach in to an understanding. The prevalence of multi-identity to cover insecurity of man under the umbrella of culture exacerbated the situation. Hence, even if persons have same religion, they are to hear for sake of replying as they might have different ideological orientation about a state or they may be from different tribes. A fascist catholic and capitalist catholic are not apt to reach in to an understanding without sacrificing their political view which they will never do.
We have to differentiate between hearing and listening. Hearing involves one sense organ, which is the ear, whereas listening goes beyond that to include the five senses. When you listen you don’t only hear the voice you see, feel, taste, and smell it. You mingle the idea with your internal world. You experience it subjectively. For a listening to occur the person must have a free subjective reality which is friendly with his senses. Nowadays, human senses are paralyzed by dogmatic nature of the social identities they embrace. Subjective reality of every person is poisoned by such identities. Both are set at odds. What a person smell, see, feel, taste is all religion, political ideology of a state, tribal orientation and so on. Hearing is simply vomiting back the idea as a reply, as there is no enough sensation to reach the subjective reality of the person.
Whether people listen so as understand or hear to reply depends on how the essence of human being is viewed. Due to prevalence of social-identities, man does not come to this world to find his essence. He comes with an already-made essence. For example, if someone is born from a Muslim family, he grows up along the lines that Allah wants him to be. He was before being born created in the mind of Allah. In this world, he does not have a meaning rather than Islam. Therefore, such person is not apt to listen rather than hear. Listening involves creating your own essence without a predestined path. You encapsulate new view point and mingle it with your subjective reality and make an essence of your life. Can people do so when they think they have already found an Islamic, Christian, communist, capitalist meaning in life?
Unless man is freed of his predestined fate and essence which are cover ups for his insecurity and start an existentialist life, there is no hope for listening but for hearing.