The host interviewed Dennis Prager yesterday (Hughniverse subscription required) about his extraordinarily controversial tweet. The discussion has continued into today as Dennis has written his column in response. This is an extraordinary thing to watch. Dennis keeps trying to explain himself, but no one is listening. Dennis continues to tell people that they are misunderstanding, entirely failing to acknowledge that they have good reason to do so. It seems like everybody is talking; everybody is reacting, and nobody is listening.
Such is a human failing, common in most conflicts, and grossly exacerbated by the internet, and Twitter in particular. Whenever we take to the internet, whether to blog, to post on Facebook, or to tweet, we are in a hurry to say something. How often do we listen? And when we react, how often are we reacting to what we think someone is saying instead of what they actually are saying? Listening is hard, and it is even harder when reading. This Prager kerfuffle is really little different than the thousands of personal conflicts I have seen erupt, and occasionally grow completely out-of-hand, on Facebook or other social media.
It is somewhat imprudent of me to quote the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, when someone as knowledgeable of it as Dennis Prager is involved, but as I have watched this unfold Proverbs 18:13 keeps coming to my mind:
To answer before listening—
that is folly and shame.
To be certain, I think everybody involved believes they have listened, but the fact that neither side of this debate acknowledges that the other side has a point makes me reasonably confident that the opposite is the fact. As it says elsewhere in Proverbs:
The way of fools seems right to them,
but the wise listen to advice.
Since everyone in this mess seems convinced of their rectitude….
When we get right down to it, listening is all about humility. That is to say it is about putting aside my agenda and my desire to be heard for the sake of hearing the other. Think about that phrase “desire to be heard.” Oftentimes conflict results from disagreement not because of the disagreement itself, but because one party or the other is so frustrated at not being heard that they over react. Listening acknowledges the essential humanity of the other, and to not listen is to deny them of at least a bit of that humanity.
Ask someone a question about something they really care about, even if you could care less, and watch them come alive. Yes, paying attention to their answer encourages them to keep talking, which becomes a strain when you are just being polite, but that’s the point I am trying to make. The act of listening is of itself affirming, and not listening has the opposite affect. If you think in those terms it is hardly surprising that people get really angry in situations like this.
Discussion is not always about what is being discussed. Human interaction happens on many levels, verbal, non-verbal and implied. Until we are mindful of such, genuine communication will generally elude us. The internet is pure verbal communication, it cannot possible carry on other levels of communication. Even video, with its controlled viewpoint, lacks sufficient nuance for genuine and thorough human interaction.
But it all starts with listening – inquiring before reacting. It is not just a matter of ideas, but of humanity.