To Understand is to Change

By Song Y Yoon. Song Y is a freelance writer from Seoul, South Korea. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

For one to listen, one only needs to lend an ear, but for one to understand, an open mind is essential. As Stephen R. Covey stated, most people do not listen with the intention to understand the other. In fact, most listen for the sake of being heard themselves, hence their intentions of replying. As most of us may have experienced, it is not unusual for one to speak and be met with arguments and interruptions, which shows that the “listener” is not there to truly listen, but to debate. Often one feels empowered to prove the other wrong, or prove themselves to be more right. However, this is no surprise, as it is supported by the current education system. To be more specific, I believe it is the grading system that encourages this kind of behavior. Knowledge is celebrated when it is accumulated to a certain degree, but understanding is, more often than not, dismissed. Therefore, people listening with the intention of understanding is rare, since understanding remains is a skill to be honed.

What does it take for one to listen? Listening is the mere physical act of transmitting sound into one’s ears. It is an innate physical ability that requires no training or learning. For one to be heard, however, takes great effort and struggle. As history shows, many minority groups have had to make themselves heard via various means, whether it be through protests, violence, or art. Surely, the receivers of their messages were more than capable of listening to their words, but what made the difference was what they did after. Did they ignore the message? Did they instigate change? Or did they turn a blind eye? For one to be heard, it is not so important what is done per say, but that one is believed and therefore validated. However, for one to believe another takes great understanding and a flexible consciousness. That which is not rigid and egotistic in always being right, but flexible enough to be proved wrong without taking offense.

For one to grow a flexible mind one must always wonder. To wonder is to question and to question is to challenge. Challenging one’s own truth and knowledge is of great importance for the sake of preserving a harmonious society, since a society consists of those alike and unalike. Though it is easy to get along with those we associate with, it is those who hold different beliefs or ideals that we struggle to live with. At times, this struggle can even lead to disruption and violence. However, with a flexible mind, one seeks to understand difference. The differences in beliefs, perspectives, and ideals. The difference between groups of people. Hence, one might then come across common ground. It is easier said than done, however, for most educational systems do not support this kind of growth. Facts are learned via repetition and memorization and intelligence is recognized by the giving of subjective numbers. This mode of education creates a rigid mind, not an understanding one. And thus, the young mind which is naturally born to ask about the world which it does not know of, is tamed to be satisfied with the limited scope of the education system. However, it is not just the education system that discourages people from understanding one another, but the obligation to appear to understand.

The one who knows can act upon their realizations and the one who simply chooses to stay still is as much to blame as the one causing the harm. However, ignorance is bliss in the sense that one is not required to face the problems and acknowledge them. But one must question at the expense of what? To understand another is to also be capable of shouldering the burden of being a member of society. To create the best conditions for us all to live together harmoniously.

Stephen R. Covey was right to state that, “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”. More often than not, we are met by arguments from those who oppose our views, and conversations soon turn into debates. Change, at times, can be painful for individuals who do not listen, and to be in the wrong can be greatly shameful as as mistakes are highlighted by further conversations. However, to understand one another is of great importance as it is essential for the development of a harmonious society. Hence, for one to understand, he or she must not simply lend an ear, but wonder, ask, and change.

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