Everyone wants their viewpoint to be heard. We want recognition, validation, the opportunity to say, “I was right”. Perhaps this is why although we may actually hear what is being said to us, we don’t really take it all in or fully absorb the message. Stephen R. Covey stated that “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Think about it. As you’re reading this, you’re already thinking of what type of response you should be formulating. And you’ll make your response, whether vocally or silently, after you believe you understand the points I’ve made.
I say that you’ll make your response after you believe you understand the points I’ve made because, as this is an essay, you can’t ask me to elaborate. You can’t ask me to rephrase or to give an example. Instead, you’ll sit back, maybe sigh. If I’ve made a point you agree with, perhaps I’ll get a check next to the paragraph, or if you disagree, a shake of the head or a “listen to this” to a nearby friend or colleague as you expound on all the ways in which what I’m saying is wrong. Why? So that you’re heard. A check is an acknowledgment and, in a way, a validation for you. I’ve said something that you have said or that you would have said if given the opportunity. The shake of the head or a litany of complaints against my argument allows you to reply, to get your points in, to get your validation.
So many people are ready to dismiss what another is saying solely for the fact that they are stuck in their own perspective or their own way of thinking. Perhaps this perspective was passed down from one generation to the next or perhaps the experience of one person has jaded them to the point where they can see no other alternative way to think. Take for example, the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Some blind men hear about a strange animal called an elephant and determine to inspect the creature in order to understand its size and shape. The blind men gather around the elephant and begin to investigate using their senses. Because they are all located at different parts of the elephant’s body, they all have different perspectives as to what they are experiencing. When they state their observations, none of the men can agree. They yell over one another to be heard. It is only when a sighted man comes and tells the men that they are all correct based on their observations of different parts of the elephant’s body that the men calm down. They were told they were right. They were all validated.
Another example can easily be found in the almost hostile atmosphere surrounding the election of the president of the United States of America, even though it has been almost two years since his inauguration. There are many people who argue Mr. Trump’s merits and there is an equal amount of those who believe these merits are erroneous. I could argue with you for hours on what I believe the future holds in store for us because of his election. If you agree with me, then the conversation won’t last that long. We’ll nod with enthusiasm or shake our heads in commiseration and life will go on as usual. BUT, if we were to disagree…imagine the dialogue that would ensue. I would try to convince you one way, you would try to convince me of the contrary. Our voices would grow in volume. “No, I’m right,” I’d exclaim. “That’s not the way it is,” you’d reply. We would get so caught up in being the one with the “correct” information that we would fail to listen to what the other person was truly saying.
It would seem, then, that not “listen[ing] with the intent to understand” is our society’s problem. I’m not saying that if everyone actually listened to one another we would have peace and harmony. It’s not that easy. But if we truly endeavoured to hear one another instead of striving to be right, it would definitely be a step in the right direction, wouldn’t it? Go ahead, discuss.