22 Jun 2015

Only connect

Over the past few months, I've run in to a variety of communication failures. Most of them involve a failure of empathy, i.e., taking the other person's perspective into account.

I've been told "this is what YOU believe." I've been told "that's not what YOU'RE saying." I've been told "nobody would think that."

I've been told, in sum, that the speaker has not realized that there's another way of seeing the world that does not revolve around them.

This problem -- of empathy, ego, or perspective -- is common as well as devastating to our societies.
  • In the first instance, you have disagreements or misunderstandings with people.
  • In the second, you cannot work with people.
  • In the third -- and worst -- your "community" weakens.
Adam Smith spoke of "acting as if your better other was looking over your shoulder." F.A. Hayek reminded us that we cannot know everything and must try to understands the ideas of others. Jane Jacobs illustrated how cities drew their strengths from the random interactions and interdependencies of residents. Billions of people live every day thanks to the efforts of others who, somehow, think about them.

Those small scale examples can be applied on a larger, national or international scale, but they depend on respecting the views of others, taking the time to understand those views, and finding ways to reconcile or abide by others' views (except when they harm others).

Does this mean that people cannot disagree? Does it mean that they cannot say hurtful things? No. People are always going to say these things -- intentionally or not. The key is to find ways of living with them and -- hopefully -- removing their sting, two outcomes that come with thoughtful living (wisdom).

Bottom Line: We must spend more time listening to others by spending less time on ourselves.