We are a few days into the invasion of a sovereign country by another sovereign country… and the senseless deaths that ensue. I’m not one for pronouncements but if we can learn anything from history it is this: if we don’t discuss our differences, if we don’t talk, then the only alternative is violence. This is as true internationally as it is domestically. Technology has only exacerbated this fundamental human tendency. The only way to prevent violence is to learn to express one’s differences and learn to hear and understand the differences of others.
“Communication” is not about how eloquent or smart or well-spoken one is. It’s not about the clever tricks of rhetoric or the slick slide deck. My work as a consultant and a coach is to invite people (I work mostly with managers) to approach communication as
a process by which all parties make themselves co-responsible for the creation of a shared understanding.
I am responsible not only to express my ideas clearly (which requires that they be clear ideas to start with). I am also responsible to ensure that the other party has understood what I was trying to say. Conversely, it is also my responsibility to ensure that I have understood what the other party is trying to say.
This is impossible without dialogue: not only my telling you something and you telling me something, but also my asking you if I got you right and your asking me if you got me right… with the purpose of creating a shared understanding. The outcome is that we have both understood the meaning that each other is trying to convey.
People or parties talking without the express work of creating a shared understanding are at best engaging in turn-taking monologues. They are talking at each other. They are not necessarily talking to each other. There is no dialogue.
And while listening is important and one can learn to do that better, nothing replaces the premise of effective listening: a genuine interest in what the other person has to say.
If you know it all, if you’re the most experienced person in the room, if you’re the most senior person in the room, the smartest person in the room, if you think you have forgotten more about this topic than the other person will ever know then you might be far removed from having a genuine interest in what the other person has to say.
photo by Tina Hartung on Unsplash
In an exquisite case of synchrony, I happened to read this right after Vonnegut’s letter:
I have always believed, always, even when I was a precocious little girl crying alone in my bed, that our purpose in this life is to experience everything we possibly can, to understand as much of the human condition as we can squeeze into one lifetime, however long or short that may be. We are here to feel the complex range of emotions that come with being human. And from those experiences, our souls expand and grow and learn and change, and we understand a little more about what it really means to be human. I call it the evolution of the soul.
It is from a letter Julie Yip-Williams wrote to her daughters before colon cancer took her life.
I love how reading sometimes echo each other.
source: https://lettersofnote.com/2021/03/01/live-a-life-worth-living/, accessed 220104
In 2006, a high school English teacher asked students to write to a famous author and ask for advice. Kurt Vonnegut was the only one to respond. And his response is magnificent:
Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:
I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.
What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.
Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?
Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash receptacles. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.
God bless you all!
source: https://www.timelesstimely.com/p/ars-gratia-artis, accessed 220104