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Crisis of Listening

Posted on Friday, June 21, 2024
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by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
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Sometimes I wish my parakeet, Grant, talked “dog,” or my dogs, Cassy and D’ Artagnan spoke “parakeet.”  They get into it, really do, and there is a language barrier, despite the dogs having taught the parakeet to bark, which sounds like a common tongue but is not. The parakeet has no interest in what the dogs say, no tongue anyway. The three are louder than a room full of zebras and giraffes, although I confess I have never been in such a room. They all have opinions and nobody listens.

Some days, they seem like America writ small. Oddly, while we all know words like frustrated, polarized, divisive, radical, and uncaring – we know their opposites. We know words like content and satisfied, respectful and unified, harmonious, sensible, curious, patient, and persuasive.

Animals aside, most humans have it in them to step back, look at a situation with some perspective, take it in, think it over, be their “best selves” for a minute, and give another person a shot at the dog bowl, or seed dish. We actually know how to listen, even if doing so can be infuriating.

So, I hear you: Why listen to a whack job, an ideologically disturbed, brainwashed, brain tossed, dyed-in-the-wool opposer of everything you believe, when it will only raise your blood pressure, maybe cause you to say things you regret, want to forget?

Why bother to engage at all, especially in an era when lines are drawn, tribes or species hardened, and chances of moving anyone are near zero? You are either a dog or a parakeet, period. Right?

Well, here is an epiphany: Humanity has been in this place before, many times. Some ended in dark conflict, dogs and parakeets sure no common ground to be found, one side disgusted with wings, colors, beaks, and chatter, the other with four legs and pointy ears, both sure they would win.

Sometimes these interpersonal, intertribal,  interspecies conflicts end things, but not often. Humanity has a way of forgetting, and conflicts have unforeseen repercussions, loss of peace.

Back to dogs and parakeets, things closer to home. Sometimes, listening changes things, taking a step back and showing or modeling maturity, being an example of what others are not.

You may say I am crazy, especially in this weird moment in history, but let’s talk about America. What does it cost to listen to another American? Time, sure. Patience, sure. Respect, sure. Irritation, sure. And?

Did you learn anything about yourself doing that, giving time, patience, respect, and fortitude that the other person failed to? More to the point, did you teach anything by doing that?  

The answer to both those questions is usually yes. You let someone vent their spleen, pour out their grievances with the world, maybe with you, even unfairly …but you let them.  There you stood, letting them lower their own self-esteem, rant or bark like a dog, squawk like a parakeet.

By letting others hurl ill-informed conclusions at you, putting on your best George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Colin Powell – or Helen Keller, Clara Barton, Margaret Thatcher, Mother Theresa, or best memory of a favorite grandparent, who won?

Answer: You did. By listening to someone, you occupy the high ground and show maturity – not because you agree with them, not an inference, but because you are the adult in the room, instantly.

Put differently, our society is hemorrhaging maturity, making mature people stand out.  As absurdities wash up, we go over and examine them. The question is how to respond.

Asked our views, we have an obligation to share truths we know from life, if necessary getting back immaturity, ignorance, or misdirected anger. But we are more likely to spur listening, sow seeds of reflection, and leave an indelible footprint by listening, hard as that is. We win respect by showing it.

G.K Chesterton said, “There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”  True for us, it is true for others. Getting people – although not dogs and birds – to listen is best done by listening.

Sometimes, stuff is simple, so simple we miss it, get caught in squawking or barking, and forget the point. The point .. is to get to that elusive common tongue, get a connection, and get an understanding. 

Bottom line: You know when someone is listening, not just waiting to talk. Sometimes that happens toward the end of a conversation, sometimes it never does, but it never happens without an effort.

Ernest Hemingway wrote: “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” We have a crisis … of listening. And that is why none of my animals … is named Ernest or Hemingway.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.   

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Max
Max
22 days ago

RBC, another wonderful, thoughtful and funny article. The Heavenly Father gave us 2 ears and one mouth. One should listen completely, think for an appropriate response, then articulate on it. Too many of us don’t listen fully, then engage the situation with our own problem, totally ignoring the opening situation, thus presenting no solution. So, LISTEN, THINK, then ENGAGE with an appropriate response.

Have a good weekend.

Rob citizenship
Rob citizenship
22 days ago

The idea that respect is reciprocal is easy to understand so, realizing that listening is part of what makes understanding someone else necessary for having respect for them ,then. listening makes sense .Listening is something . that is comparable to the changes in weather patterns in a way . Circumstances can change so that could mean the need to make new observations of what is developing. And it surely is important, – just like the ability to make good decisions is based on planning,organizing , coordination of what is needed to be able to schedule the delivery of goods or services are all connected by clear, intelligent communication — that communication is based on listening properly. The parakeet – dog communication is humorous and leads to the trail on the way to how animals communicate and that is something worth exploring in many ways. Enjoyable, informative important article Robert . It should be appreciated by anyone interested in helping to establish the sort of communication that will be necessary to set the course of the United States in the right direction.

Jack Davis
Jack Davis
21 days ago

I was a member of the Santa Clara Central Committee, many of the members were liberals, I was a conservative, there were many that wanted to argue differences I refused to argue instead I listened, it didn’t take the members long to realize I was a Christian yet they couldn’t get me to argue. However I did offer a comment once in a while,
my attention was focused on getting the right people to talk about the issues to win the election. On my eightieth birthday the members brought cake and ice cream celebrating my birthday.
they respected my concern,however, we never argued about what they believed., I refused to give them the opportunity.
Arguing doesn’t make you a better person you just need to learn how to get along and not be afraid, usually if you don’t want to be in the middle of something you will have the opportunity to be a better person and not arguing with the opponents,
The Bible says to love your enemies and be happy with them ..
I rest my my case..

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