What our grandchildren are learning in their “history” class, we lived through. Back in the 1980’s there was a genuine ( and well founded) fear of a nuclear conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. At the height of the tension, and just before the meeting with American President Ronald Regan and General Secretary of the U.S.S.R., Mikael Gorbachev to establish a permanent reduction of nuclear weapons, there was shown on national TV, a program called; The Morning After. The program/movie was about the aftermath of a nuclear conflict between the U.S. and Russia. The setting for the movie was Lawrence, Kansas. In one scene, after the nuclear exchange, at the University of Kansas, in the campus radio station, a young man calls out over the airwaves: “Hello? Hello? Is Anybody Out There? Is Anybody Listening?” And, while we do not appear to be on the verge of some nuclear holocaust, the question seems to be still quite applicable: “Hello? Hello? Is Anybody Out There? Is Anybody Listening?”
I do not believe that this phenomenon is particularly new to the current political tensions in America and the world, but the current levels of tensions and violence in the world are directly related to the lack of the ability to genuinely listen to other people who might not agree with everything one might believe. And despite all the classes and workshops I have had over the years trying to develop and strengthen my skills of “active listening”, I am still not very good at it. I have a very difficult time listening to someone say something against, without trying to form a counter argument to blast him or her with, when they finish; if I let them finish. A few times, the person would challenge me; “You are not “listening” to what I am saying!” and they were right of course. Listening, truly listening, involves searching for the truth, not simply another point of argument.
It is a belief of mine, that a major factor of violence is the sense of “not being listened to”. This is in no way a defense for violent outbreaks, but one thing that we might do to minimize the level of violence. Active listening involves the whole mind and attention of the listener, observant and aware of body posture, tone of voice, hand gestures, and facial expressions. But active listening also requires an openness to be taught, to learn something. We do not need to be “converted” to be effective listeners, but we need to know exactly what we disagree with, and why we think the other idea/activity is wrong. A clue to when we can be aware of our becoming better listeners is when we become less vocal of “labels” : “That’s liberal c—p”; “You’re just spouting Conservative h—-t”; etc. When we are able to honestly say to the other, in calm and respectful tones: “I understand ——-, but I believe ——, because ——.” We are actively listening to another person. We are also reducing the level of violence, and anger in this world by at least a factor of two people.