public squareVoices. 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.


Correct! (And adorable!)

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.


Correct, again!

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:

  1. The most basic of all human needs is to understand and to be understood.
  2. It is almost impossible to hate a person whom we fully understand.
  3. 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.

A dialogue leads to understanding.
And understanding leads to wisdom.
And wisdom leads to compassion.
And compassion leads to joy.

But first there must be dialogue.



About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

12 responses to “Voices

  • dianasschwenk

    I had never noticed that listen and silent have the same letters – that’s so awesome!

    I also really love the point that it is hard to hate someone when you understand them. There is a lot of wisdom in that line. 🙂

    Diana xo

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yeah, it’s a really neat coincidence. It’s almost like they added that silent “t” to “listen” just so it would work that way. 🙂

      There’s a classic SF novel, Ender’s Game, that was recently made into a fairly good movie. The idea of truly understanding your enemy — and coming to love them — is a key point of the book. You also find it in various stories that feature two enemies (often from opposing sides in some war) being forced to be together and work together to survive. In the process they come to know each other, understand each other, and thus become friends. An example that springs to mind is the SF film (based on the novella), Enemy Mine.

      The idea isn’t new… but it’s one that seems often forgotten or ignored these days.

  • bronxboy55

    I’ve been alive for almost sixty years, and I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve met who really know how to listen. “Now that the interweb gives everyone a voice in the public square, the problem seems much worse.” And getting worse all the time, I’m afraid.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Wait… what did you say? I wasn’t listening… :/

      But seriously… back in the days of USENET there was the metaphor of a public park where everyone was standing on soap boxes proclaiming their opinion… to no one listening. (We also used to say: USENET is like a public park — beware of dogma droppings!) I’ve watched the “getting worse” part during my time online since the mid 1980s. Now almost every online publication of any kind has a comments section where people proclaim their opinion…

      To what end, exactly? We talk past each other and at each other, but there’s rarely a dialogue, rarely any give and take, rarely any ability to see or admit the other person has a point.

      It makes me so soul-ill I don’t know what to do. Everything seems increasingly futile. 😦

  • reocochran

    Listening is quite a skill, that makes it hard to develop. I like that you reminded us that even in our mother’s uterus, we are listening and being spoken to.
    We learn other things from our senses, that help us to tune in, don’t you think? We learn that some smells make us nostalgic, memories are entwined in them. We also feel soft or silky things, remembering the nightwear our mother or adoptive mother wore, as we drank our bottles. While we are savoring that milk (formula…) we also study the faces above us. I am disquieted when I see mothers or fathers watching television, not noticing the sweet face gazing, studying and memorizing us. They may just see our chins if we don’t look down.
    I am disturbed at seeing people glancing downward at their cellphones, mid-conversation. Used to be a watch, that made me feel that I was taking too much of their time up!
    I am getting better at listening, but feel that I am a little hyper, unless I am nibbling on a snack or sipping on a drink (tea, coffee, water, doesn’t have to mean alcoholic drink! ha ha) I am silent and more respectful walking in the woods. This got me thinking and enjoyed this very much! ~Robin

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’m glad you enjoyed it and that it got you thinking, Robin!

      And I agree with all of what you said. All our senses, sight, smell, taste, touch and sound bring us information about the world around us, and (of course) there are those who do without one or more of those senses. When that happens, it often seems the other senses step in and become more acute to compensate. It’s really the most important of our abilities that matters most: our minds!

      And I totally share your concerns about cell phones and the distractions of media in general. They are like a drug (quite literally: cell phones are shown to be addictive). Far too many people are “stoned to the gills” on pointless, shallow crap that means nothing and just takes them further and further away from the real world.

      Lately I’ve begun to believe that things are going to have to get much, much worse. We need to hit the infamous addict’s “rock bottom” before people wake up and realize we have to change ourselves and our way of life if we have any hope of having a way of life anymore.

      • reocochran

        I am glad you are thinking that there is still a possibility that we may find future life changes. Once “rock bottom” has been dealt with! I cringe at the thought of people getting addicted to what some of them are looking at. Nothing like reading a book or newspaper, but the inanity of it all makes me worry about mankind. I am hoping that we have a way to wake up, a way to ‘pause’ and ‘rewind’ to where we should be. I am not old-fashioned nor a big church goer, anymore. So, I am not crazy about the way people that are in those categories, tend to think there is going to be a terrible catastrophe. (You know what I am talking about, but I prefer not to put myself into the spotlight…) I already get myself into enough trouble! Smiles, Robin

      • Wyrd Smythe

        You don’t have to be religious to think there will be a terrible catastrophe (although I know what you mean, and that’s not what I’m talking about).

        That’s the problem with hitting rock bottom — it will be catastrophic. Sadly, it’s already starting to happen in various places in the world. For just one example, hurricane Sandy affected many tens of thousands more than it would have due to the one-foot rise in sea level in the last two decades. And I mentioned the droughts that resulted in severe food shortages in Syria and Egypt.

        That’s the thing… the problems are already here (warmer temperatures in your area might be part of it). The question is how much worse it needs to get before people wake up.

  • ~ Sadie ~

    GREAT post!!! Such truth in your words!! ☮

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