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April 25, 2006

Culture Maven by cd kaplan

Listen. Carefully

It is one of the most quoted lines in all of cinema.

The context was skewed, written to be ironic. But the words themselves, if heeded, herald the human trait that could realign our harum scarum world tipping perilously off axis.

“What we’ve got here,” intoned Captain, the good-ol’-boy prison overseer, to his captives in “Cool Hand Luke,” “is failure to communicate.”

Among the salient definitions of the word, according to Random House: “to give or interchange thoughts, feelings, information …,” “to be joined or connected.”

Unfortunately, it is the industry known as Communications that today provides the most obvious, incessant examples of what Captain was talking about.

Political pundits with an unwavering agenda spew diatribe at each other without drawing a breath or opening their ears. Radio hosts bellow their opinions, daring not to listen to any who think otherwise.

Politicians hold “town meetings” where, instead of dialogue with constituents that would foster a greater understanding of what citizens need, they pontificate to loyalists hanging on every syllable of predetermined propaganda.

The failure to communicate is as epidemic in the realm of personal relations. How many of us have become so rigid in our beliefs that we cannot hear — or choose not to hear — our loved ones and friends?

It could be said we’re becoming a society of Nilsson Schmilssons. You know, “Everybody’s talking at me, I don’t hear a word they’re saying.”

How many of us hear (“to perceive by ear”), but don’t listen (“to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing”)?
The matter of understanding is being lost. One guy’s opinion is that we’re fast losing the ability, even the wherewithal, to interchange ideas, thoughts, feelings, information.

This rant may seem somewhat academic, but what I’m talking about is a sad state of affairs.

Healing awaits if society chooses to reverse the trend.

Examples are legion. Here’s one:
It was 1935. A chronic drunk named Bill Wilson hadn’t had a drink for months, but he was far from sober. The businessman, who had known both great success and failures, found himself in Akron, Ohio, another business deal gone bad. He was thirsty, a peril he knew could be fatal given his history of obsessive imbibition.

By inspiration that some in the recovery community would call divine, Bill Wilson, a salesman at heart, felt he could bolster his sobriety if he could find another drunk to talk with. Through an intermediary, he hooked up with a physician named Bob Smith, a drinker who hadn’t been able to stop.

The strangers started chatting in the evening. They shared stories of drunken moments, ideas, beliefs, philosophies, anecdotes. Then shared some more. As the story is told, when dawn broke, they came to a profound understanding. They talked a lot about drinking, but neither felt the need or desire that night to drink.

Bill talked. Bob listened.

Bob talked. Bill listened.

Bill Wilson and Bob Smith communicated.

Their lives changed for the better. So, too, those of many who followed. That interaction became the fundamental truth of what has become known as the 12-step recovery process, a phenomenon that has saved and rejuvenated millions of lives around the globe for seven decades.

An example of a solution too simplistic for the ills that have befallen the world?

So you might say.

Yet … yet … how many times have we worked through a problem with a co-worker just by talking it through? How many lovers’ spats have been resolved by sharing feelings?

Touchy-feely? Oh yeah.

Effective? Without a doubt.

Remember a while back when those of groups of Israeli and Palestinian teen musicians came to town to perform together? Well, you ask them if that forced interaction didn’t open their eyes, change their perspective, make them — if only a might — more willing to listen to an antagonist’s perspective of a festering argument?

There’s a group called the International Listening Association. It held its convention last weekend in Oregon. The theme: “Listening: The Language of Peace.” The theme of a previous confab: “Listening: The Foundation of Community.”

It seems that many have chosen to cope in our raucous world by clutching their embedded beliefs as life preservers. Now is the time to loosen our grips. To cherish our perspectives, but to be open to those of others.
The time has come today.

To communicate.

To listen.

Locally. Globally. Personally.

To ponder yet again, what’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?

Contact the writer at
cdk@culturemaven.com