Oh how hard it is to hear and be heard

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve long been fascinated by right speech and right listening (see post). The more I’ve contemplated communication the more I’m amazed sometimes that we ever understand one another at all. For instance in my latest post on my other blog I poke fun at the way southerners react to winter weather. In this case even though we’re from the same country and basically speak the same language, our life experiences concerning snow are so different that we don’t understand one another’s views.

I can stand back and take in the usual explanation, that they just don’t get snow as often nor as much so they’re not used to it. OK, up to a point I get that. But then I start reasoning, “But even if you’ve never dealt with 10” of snow, how can you not see that 1” is just not a big deal?  Even if you’re afraid of snow how can you not see that a road wet from snow flurries is the same as a road wet from rain.?  How does a wet road not equal a wet road just because you’re from the south?” Clearly there’s a level on which my experience (and my mind’s attachment to what it knows) leaves me unable to comprehend what they see and feel when it snows. And the people who are scared by conditions here cannot figure out why I don’t see the danger that’s making them cancel all plans and refuse to leave the house.*

There are so many world views that arise from different experiences. Class, region, culture, religion, country, career—all carry sets of beliefs and views of life that often are incomprehensible to others.  I’ve seen a number of couples founder because the poor origins of one and the rich background of the other led to such radically different assumptions about money and how to handle it that they couldn’t find a way to reconcile. We see labor and management failing to see each others’ point of view all the time. When it comes to foreigners it’s almost impossible for lots of people to comprehend or accept ways and mores that are unlike theirs.

A big key to right speech and right listening so that you reach true understanding is being able to step out of your set beliefs and opinions so that you can really hear the other person. When it comes to the beliefs that are ingrained in your story from birth—like north or south, middle class or rich, Guatemalan or Balinese, Muslim or Hindu, etc.–they’re built so deep into your being that you often don’t realize that you have them or that they don’t represent an absolute truth. It takes a lot of questioning to find and release those beliefs that are woven into the tapestry of your being, especially since they’re often held by lots of people around you. The more we can release of those views or at least step aside from them in conversation the more we can listen and find the place where our hearts connect instead of focusing on how we differ.

*  Not talking about the mountains here as driving on curvy roads that meander up and down when it’s slick is its own story…

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6 thoughts on “Oh how hard it is to hear and be heard

  1. Your post made me smile. I’ve lived in the south for 40 years and still get a kick out of the mad rush to the grocery store when snow is in the forecast. Very important point about our ingrained world-views.

    • Nobody’s ever been able to explain to me why, in a place where people have only been snowed in for a few days once in something like 50 years (that’s what I can remember, might be much longer), do they have such panic that they’re going to be marooned? And without groceries? Even though most of us have pantries that could feed 20 people for a month…

    • Oh, ice is a different matter. And my recollection of it on mountainy streets in the Pacific Northwest is: don’t put your car on a road with a slope that’s covered with ice…. Also still have to be careful of some injured areas from long ago spills on ice in Chicago (usually running for the el…)

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