Voices. It begins with voices. Even before we are born, we hear voices. Human language is the most complex form of inter-species communication that we know. It takes years to learn and many more years to become fluent. Mastering it takes serious dedication and practice.
In the public square, it also begins with voices. The voices of men filled it first. As time marches on other voices are raised: the voices of women; the voices of nationality and race; political voices; religious voices; gay voices; vegan voices and more. Now the public square is filled with the dynamic clamor of many different voices.
To go beyond the beginning, we must listen to the voices.
It’s an interesting coincidence that “listen” and “silent” use the same letters.
To go beyond the clamor of voices, we have to listen to other voices, and that means we must — for a moment — still our own. When two voices take turns being silent and listening, voices become dialogue.
When multiple voices participate in a dialogue, it becomes a conversation.
But for a dialogue — or conversation — to work, voices must listen and seek to understand what another voice says.
[The word comes from ancient Greek: διάλογος (diálogos, “conversation, discourse”), from διά (diá, “through, inter”) + λόγος (lógos, “speech, oration, discourse”). And, of course, λόγος (lógos), is a cornerstone of what this blog, Logos con carne, is all about.]
A dialogue is not waiting for the other voice to stop so you can speak. That’s called “talking past each other.” It’s like playing ping-pong and just smashing the ball past each other way out-of-bounds. In ping-pong that costs you a point.
A dialogue is not hunting through the other voice’s words looking for a sound-bite to reshape and use as a weapon. That’s like cutting off a tiny piece of the ping-pong ball, gluing it to a piece of lead and flinging it back at the other player’s head.
It’s not only not fair; it’s not even ping-pong.
Dr. Ralph G. Nichols, formerly of the University of Minnesota, is called by some the “father of the field of listening.” He has over 40 years of experience studying the art of listening.
Back in 1980 Dr. Nichols presented a keynote speech at the first annual convention of the International Listening Association (ILA), an organization dedicated to promoting listening.
The speech was titled, “The Struggle to be Human.” (The link leads to a PDF of the entire speech, and it’s entirely worth the read.)
In the speech, “Nick” presented a list of eleven bullet point. Read the speech for the entire list, but the first three really cover the main points:
- The most basic of all human needs is to understand and to be understood.
- It is almost impossible to hate a person whom we fully understand.
- The best way to understand people is to listen to them.
Over 30 years ago, people understood society struggled with listening to each other. Now that the interweb gives everyone a voice in the public square, the problem seems much worse.
But first there must be dialogue.