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COMMUNITY: Listening: A bridge to wisdom and healthier community

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“We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.” It is ironic, with our modern taste for innovation and a growing mistrust of anything ancient, that words from a Greek philosopher over 2400 years ago can still ring true.

Look at the news, Facebook, twitter and you will see yelling, polarizing and dismissive memes, marches, shootings, arrests and a general unrest that is the result of chronically dismissing the viewpoints of others. Today, multiple dynamics are coming together to create less resilience and more anger.

Stephen Covey says, “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” It takes commitment and maturity to manage our emotions while we take in information that is in contrast to the values we have programmed into our intellectual hardware. It has taken a lifetime to come to our conclusions and our brains vigorously protect that learning and experience.

Our brains are built to filter out what does not fit our paradigm. The hard truth about this biological design is that information alone does not change our filters. Altering what we believe is always harder than we think. Ask a smoker how hard it has been to stop a destructive habit even though the health warning is right on the package.

Without a strong emotional commitment to making a change our brains will simply keep filtering out conflicting information. Changing a belief takes a deep commitment to “rewire” how we feel about it. This is a more courageous journey than most of us are willing to undertake, especially in this politically charged social climate.

Another aspect of listening is paying attention to what is being left out or avoided in the conversations. Some things are too painful, vulnerable, polarizing, or politically incorrect to say out loud. Business consultant Peter Drucker has advised that, “the most important thing in communication is hearing what is not being said.” This can become the missing link in the most difficult conversations. Body language is a core component of listening.

Deeper truths tend to leak out as we talk. They are essential to fully understand and empathize with the person you are speaking with.

Attention must also be paid to how these conversations take place. Creating a safe space, environmentally and emotionally, is best for meaningful communication. Social media is usually the wrong platform. A conversation that leverages compliance with guilt, shame, and fear produces a temporary acquiescence that is built on sand.

A conversation that honors the wisdom each possesses and lives in the place of empathy and truth seeking can create new neuropathways in our cognitive processes. The other leverages a temporary compliance that will fail at the first signs of inner distress.

This is a neurological reality – one that in our own lives will be self-evident in a few moments of reflection. If only I knew this as a young parent!

James Schatzman is executive director for the Kenosha Vocational Ministry.

James Schatzman is executive director for the Kenosha Vocational Ministry.


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