I speak because I can
To anyone I trust enough to listen,
You speak because you can
To anyone who’ll hear what you say. Laura Marling(1)
Three years ago my daughter, grandson, and I were sitting in a coffee shop in Bergen, Norway. There was a small group sitting near us. I watched their conversation. One of the individuals would speak and then there would be a pause prior to anyone else commenting. I don’t speak Norwegian, but I do believe they were actually listening to each other.
Reflecting on this led me to two slightly exaggerated observations:
Observation One: How can 40 million people in the USA have nearly identical political views on nearly every subject? (I would have thought this to be statistically impossible.)
Observation Two: If nearly all our political views are synchronized with 40 million other people, how can we, with a straight face, begin a sentence with “My opinion is . . .”?
So here are few thoughts about social media and conversations in general.
Three Things I Like
- I like listening to people give their own opinion, even if I disagree.
- I like a well-reasoned argument even if I have a different opinion.
- I like approaching new ideas and arguments in a way that says, “I’m open to changing my mind, expanding my mind, or modifying my position based on better information.”
Four things I Dislike:
- I dislike it when people deliberately pass on information to support their agenda when they know it’s not true (or even with two minutes of reflection, they would realize what they are passing along is false or inaccurate).
- I dislike it when people attack and label others for expressing their opinion.
- I dislike it when people twist another person’s argument in order to drive their own agenda.
- I dislike it when people express their opinion publicly with a caveat that they don’t want anyone else to comment. In other words, “You should hear what I say, but I shouldn’t have to hear what you say in response.” (We call it “social media” or “social discourse” for a reason –noting the word “social” has something to do with interaction.)
The late, great senator from New York, Pat Moynihan, said: “In some forty years of government work I have learned one thing for certain, as I have put it, the central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself. Thanks to this interaction, we’re a better society in nearly all respects than we were.” (2) Better societies, better institutions, and better relationships develop through an interaction of quality ideas.
Can I listen to understand? A simple test: Can I reiterate the other person’s argument in a way that they would say: “Yes, that is what I’m saying.”? I may still may disagree, but at least I’m disagreeing with their idea and not making up what I believe they are saying.
Am I buying into an agenda? Am I holding nearly identical views to everyone in my political party, faith community, or social circle? Why do I feel I need to do that?
Do I really have opinions? (Or, are they someone else’s opinions?)
For an additional post on this topic: The Fool and Social Media
(1) Laura Marling. I Speak Because I Can. 2010. Record Album.
(2) Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait In Letters Of An American Visionary. Edited by Steven R. Weisman. 2010. Estate of Daniel Patrick Moynihan. (Note: It’s important to understand Moynihan is talking about true conservatism and true liberalism, not some of the brands we see today.)