You learn more listening than you do talking

There are so many injustices in the world.  Every person has their list of a thousand causes.  Each person wants us to take up their cause, their banner and head off into battle with our time, our resources and our money.

Let’s imagine that someone walks up to you tomorrow and says “Here is a check for 10 million dollars.  The only catch is that you cannot spend any of it for your own gain.  You must donate all of it, every cent.”  The average person could easily come up with a list of a dozen causes dear to their heart that they would be happy to donate to.  The farmer in Spain has the things which affect his family personally (cancer, education…), the issues which affect his community (animal welfare, local environmental issues…) and those which he is attached to in the world at large (hunger, human rights…).  We all do.

I think that everyone has a fair idea of which issues are most important to me.  If I had to place them in a short list, I could.  But, I have learned a lot while on my journey to address some of them.  And one of the lessons I have learned a lot about is this: there is sometimes conflict between the causes important to me and there is sometimes overlap between them that I never would have expected.

I have learned that in our desire to become better advocates, we are also required by the most basic of ethical standards to be fair and maintain integrity.  One of the things I have noticed of late is a systemic problem: the refusal to have open and honest dialog.  Not grandstanding, not speech-giving; but dialog.  You love the environment; but a farmer addresses the problems that completely “green” farming methods create for poor African countries.  He tells you that they are facing the prospect of starvation for their citizens if they can’t increase food production drastically.  Do you listen to him?  Or do you dismiss him as “anti-green”?

You’ve recently adopted a child from Ethiopia; and someone asks if you feel that you might be promoting the “harvesting” of children from poor mothers in the developing world.  Do you take the time to engage them in discussion or do you just say “The agency assured me that this child is an orphan, and my family is none of your business!”

Please don’t misunderstand this to mean that I don’t believe in international adoption or green technologies.  I do support both in fact.  On the other hand, I also want to point out that we have to remember to factor in the one thing that so many of us forget when talking about the benefits of our causes—people.

History has shown us that jumping in with both feet sometimes produces disastrous results.  Most of the horrific deeds committed in history by national leaders were done (officially anyway) with the aim of improving lives in the long-term.  The atrocities were viewed as “necessary evils” to accomplish the task.  I’m not suggesting for a moment that the average person is willing to tolerate evil deeds as horrible as Hitler, Idi Amin or Stalin.  But, we chip away at our own integrity and allow it easier for us to be willing to tolerate bigger and bigger offenses as we move up the ladder of “well just this once” or “if it helps the cause in the long-term”

As a woman who was born in Africa, I love my continent.  But in my desire to be an honest and fair woman, I am also obligated to take the time to hear the views of others, especially those who misunderstand or challenge the causes important to me.  I find it particularly important to hear the views of people who are NOT like me.  For that is where I risk learning the most.

Take the time to hear others.  I promise you, it will only lead to your growth as a person and to the advancement of your ideas in the long-run.  You may actually learn why they disagree with you.  You might truly find that there is common ground there that you’d never have seen if you had shut them down before you heard them out completely.  In fact, it’s even possible that they have points which you haven’t considered: facts which will be helpful to you in the end.  And in the very least, you’ll have improved your listening skills.  There is a West African proverb which says “You learn more from listening than you do talking.”  The elders had it right!

Take time today to listen to the “other side”.  You’ll be glad that you did!

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