While It Is Evident That People Are Talking, Where Is The Evidence That People Are Really Listening?
Just the other day I had the pleasure of having lunch with a member of the 2006-07 & 2007-08 SUNY Plattsburgh NAACP Championship Women’s Hockey Team. In chit chatting about their two championship runs I asked her if she had ever been in a "shootout." She told me she had. When I asked her what was the score she said 1-0. My rendition of a “shootout” had a score that sounded like “10-9” which is quite a score for a hockey game. If we hadn’t taken the conversation a bit further, our thoughts and definitions of “shootout” would have been worlds apart. She informed me it is an actual hockey term. I was engaging it along the lines of the way it is used in football or basketball as an extension of the western term “shoot out” where in the midst of a fracas gunslingers were busting caps on anyone that moved. In these two sports it is where the offenses basically overwhelm the defenses and the score is ultimately extremely high.
As a philosophy and cultural studies graduate student working on an inter-field doctorate in southern California I once wrote a paper on the incommensurability of language. The essence of the paper was how easy it is for any of us to have a conversation with someone and believe that we actually understood one another, only to discover at a later date that we were really not communicating at the level we thought. Has that ever happened to you? If so, and you vividly remember that feeling, then consider this point: what about all the times that you have not communicated adequately with someone and you didn’t discover it. It is conceivable that many of us are walking around thinking we have some type of agreement with others and they really didn’t understand the true essence of what we were trying to convey.
Just this morning I witnessed Matt Laurer and Anne Coulter in a verbal dance around the cancellation of her guest spot on the Today Show the previous day. It was quite intriguing witnessing Matt attempting to inform her how it happened that she was preempted for Tony Blair and more so witnessing her making her points about the other people that were on the Today Show who were not preempted. They both had an agenda that they wanted to cover and therefore couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Then again, over dinner one night recently I was with a close confidant who knows the terrain of the North Country more than adequately. In a conversation about conversations relative to an upcoming event I was reminded that people see and here what they are predisposed to want to see and hear. For example, I was informed that people who don’t know me may see me as a one dimensional person who immediately admonishes people for their insensitivity or lack of consideration of others. If I am not doing that, then I am probably prejudging people. It appears that people may think I don’t have the ability to escape my profession as educator and consultant and that my analytical fire is always burning. So, in my case, I'm not necessarily heard because people already know what I will say. I'm curious, did you already know I was going to say what I have written above?
This disconnect in dialoguing also occurred in the recently released film “Doubt” starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. A fascinating film in so many ways (especially if you were educated in a Catholic school environment) the film actually presents another dimension/study of competing agendas. If the two characters portrayed by Streep and Hoffman had really conversed early on in the film it is conceivable they may not have ended up on such polar opposite sides of the issue at hand.
Have we become a society so fixated, so self-centered on our own reality that we can’t process others' realities in an open-minded way? What are some other examples of this phenomenon (in film, or real life)? What are your suggestions to solve this or should we just resign ourselves to the fact that this is how it is, and will continue to be?