“Inside voice, sweetheart.” The gentle reminder from her mom motivates a reiteration of the phrase just uttered by the tyke at ear-shattering volume, this time at a level commensurate with our ability to understand what has been said. The little one is one-fourth of a quartet of rambunctious kids who love rowdy action and nearly constant conversation. Her problem is that she doesn’t have the strength to instill her will with physical prowess, as do some of them. The Good Lord has blessed her, however, with strong lungs and a voice that can be heard above the normal din. She has learned to use her talent. Now her parents are laboring together to help her work on controlling it. It is a lesson we could all stand to learn.
I am, right now, in what might be called a time of epiphany; a season of discovery and eye-opening revelations. They shouldn’t be so astounding; these are lessons I have studied before. I am simply seeing an exhibition of how communication should have been working throughout my life, and might have been, had I been paying attention. At my age, I now gather new ideas a slice at a time, rather than seeing the whole pie, and I’m sure I should remember more, but a helpful seminar at the local university just one week ago (thanks to SIFE at JBU) has started the gears to turning once again. It is slow work and more grease is needed. I did learn this one thing though; Communication is not about talking as much as it is about listening. From a business perspective, I want to sell a product (that’s talking). But, if I want to reach the socially connected denizen of this culture, I will have to listen first to find out what they are interested in and to see if what I have to offer is relevant to them. It’s a radical concept to this old-timer.
What I am discovering, as I wander through this epiphanal landscape, oohing and aahing over each new vista that opens up, is that the precept of listening to communicate did not originate in the field of sales, nor is it a new principle in any way. It has always been true. It’s just that bumbling oafs, such as myself, have traditionally assumed that superior intellect and higher volume will always silence the opposition. The concept of superior intellect is present in my own mind only, you understand. The higher volume component? That one is universally accepted as one of my modi operandi (yeah, I had to look it up too, to be sure of the plural form). I, like the aforementioned little princess, understand that superior firepower will almost always silence the battlefield. The problem with my method is that silence doesn’t mean I’ve convinced anyone. It just means that they’re not engaged in the conversation anymore.
The whole process has led me to think about this social media phenomenon a bit further. I am astounded and dismayed by the growing rift I see between people with divergent opinions. I am also concerned by how quickly a firestorm can get started and can grow out of control. It seems that the same media which spawns viral information that can grow into concern and action (e.g. the current KONY 2012 campaign, viewed by almost four million people in two weeks), can also pit friend against friend as the volume is raised to a fever pitch in arguments about political or social issues (the recent Rush Limbaugh debacle springs to mind). If we do not understand the power of our words and the strength of our reactions, we risk, not merely ostracizing our close friends and acquaintances, but, engendering larger disasters which may be waiting to occur. Many hail the success of social media in ending the reign of terror in the Middle Eastern region in recent months. I’m not sure that the media didn’t actually short circuit the time-honored process of negotiation and compromise, instead trading the peaceful (but slower) transition to a stable solution for a violent and unstable speedy conclusion, which promises to beget more conflict without a genuine resolution for the foreseeable future. I don’t insist on that reading of the process, but am fearful that it may be so.
This wasn’t intended to be a political diatribe, but as you know, I do follow the rabbit into whichever hole it disappears, frequently. My brain is still spinning with the truths which have quite possibly been evident for many years to most of you. As I’ve said before (ad nauseum), I am a slow learner. You may have to wait for me a moment or two while I catch up. I resolve to listen more. I will attempt to talk less. The grey matter will, no doubt, continue to sift through the rubble and hopefully, the action that ensues will be rational and constructive. Time will tell.
Some of you may have noticed that there are not always comments made at the bottom of these posts. I try to listen intently to the ones I receive in other media, as well as to you who have approached me in person. Still, I do want to hear from you any time you are inclined to contribute. To me, your voice is (and always will be) a vital part of the conversation.
The comment box awaits. Please, use your inside voice…
“Speak softly and carry a big stick. You will go far.”
(West African proverb~popularized by Theodore Roosevelt~26th President of the U.S.A.~1858-1919)
“A gentle answer turns away wrath. But, harsh words stir up anger.”