My countryman George Bernard Shaw, once quipped The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
And that was way before the digital era of rapid-fire texting, 120 character tweets, Smartphone emojis. and Facebook algorithms telling us who to be, where we are, and what to buy next.
As we gather with family and friends on Independence Day, and perhaps dimly reflect on what it means historically and globally, I wonder: Do we truly listen to each other? And if so, how deeply? And will it make a difference? To my life, our lives, and the world at large?
Or does it matter?
Addressing a recent conference in Seoul, former President Barack Obama warned of the sensitive diplomatic relations in Asia, noting in particular the maverick wiles of North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jon Un.
“Pyongyang doesn’t always listen to China,” the former president noted. “Unlike the father, the son often times has engaged in fairly significant diplomatic insults of Beijing in a way we haven’t seen before and in a way that surprised China.”
“You have a young man who is only interested in maintaining power and is willing to do anything to sustain that,” Obama warned.
But then, don’t we have another leader closer to home who likes to tweet his insults? Like his recent one of “bodyslamming” CNN for simply doing their job.
What a pantomine of non-communication.
Have you something to say?
As Plato once said, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” It’s one thing to communicate what is essential in a conversation; it’s quite another to include allegations, expletives, gossip and character assassination, just to fuel an animated exchange. If our allegations, judgment, gossip and embellishment contribute nothing to what needs to be communicated, then zip it. Period. Not only in terms of communicating the essentials in a dialogue, but in keeping the exchange pure, authentic and free from ego-infestation.
As implied in Plato’s wise words, we so often play the fool in conversations. We reduce them to compulsive exchanges. And that is one of the banal components of social networks like Facebook . . . I mean, if I have a glass of Merlot with my dinner tonight or if my cat gets stuck in the chimney, who really gives a rat’s ass?
Come on, people!
A little fluff here and there okay; but let’s cut to the chase.
– Chapter 14 ‘Tools of Communication‘
At the end of the chapter just quoted, I reflect on attending The Miracle Worker—a play based on the early life of Helen Keller, the deaf/blind/mute girl who, with the help of her teacher Annie Sullivan, learned to overcome her limitations and eventually become a leading 20th-century author, political activist, and lecturer.
I took my then 8-year-old daughter to see this play with me. And as noted in the chapter:
What my daughter and I took from this play was a wonderful reminder that we are here to learn from, love, care for, and understand each other through all the tools of communication at our disposal. And if our tools are insufficient or fail us, we simply invent new ones to get the job done—with love, patience, and perseverance.
That way no-one gets hurt, miracles happen, and the freedom and dignity of all remains intact.
Are you listening Supreme Leader Kim Jon Un and What’s his name?
Cover Photo: Pixabay