As teenagers, we used to sit around without internet, smart phones or iPads and play certain games – among them “Truth or Dare”. The whole notion of that game was to get to know one another on a more intimate level and concurrently see how brave your friends and even you were at a particular moment in time. It was mostly an innocent gambit but we have all read about stories where these types of things got out of hand.
Today, the truth seems harder to come by. “Fake News” is all the rage and it seems to me that this is symptomatic of a larger trend – one in which the lenses through which people see things is getting stronger, more opaque and increasingly polarized (pun intended). I understand that “perception is reality”, but I think this is a cop out.
We all recognize that each of us possesses a unique set of experiences as no two lives are identical. That suggests we each have our very own lens through which we view events, through which we read articles or books, through which we even hear stories, the news of the day or even listen to each other. One of the things I espouse in ensuring sophisticated leadership is being practiced in organizations, is that the skill of effective listening is critical to success. This is an acquired skill set that takes into account verbal and non-verbal cues; an understanding of what is not being said; a keen sense of specific language and words chosen to be used and a thorough understanding of the context in which the other person or group is operating. This is no easy feat. It takes years of practice and practical application to become a truly great listener.
To be honest, in this political landscape, I don’t believe anyone is exhibiting great listening skills. In general, people have become entrenched in their own beliefs based on their own backgrounds, context and experiences. They have either not been exposed to many other points of view or encountered people with different backgrounds or quite frankly, they don’t care to. I am not sure which is more troubling.
Being ‘tone deaf’ suggests that your listening skills have not been developed or that they have been dulled. You may be hearing some sound waves but not necessarily processing anything other than how you yourself are reacting to these sounds or what you think about what is being said. This trend is disturbing.
I believe we should be teaching in our High Schools and in our Universities how to more effectively listen to each other and attempt to develop that skill. This does not portend instant agreement nor should there always be mutual consent. But if we can all just listen to each other in a more sophisticated, impartial, highly skilled way, we may get through this rough patch of acrimony, mistrust and lack of empathy without too much collateral damage.
The interpretation of facts and events are subject to our own individual context and life experiences. How we come to a shared understanding of what actually happened or is happening is the biggest question we face as a society today. Otherwise we cannot move forward in a progressive, meaningful and constructive manner.
Do we ‘dare’ not listen to each other now? The ‘truth’ awaits us.