„Most people don't listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.“ - Stephen Covey
Critical thinking – that's what we are told to do. To keep an open mind and to not take everything we hear at face value. Always ask questions, always look into it more. But do we really think critically? Or do we only think that we think critically? Because where does it start and where does it end? When is it actually limited by things like stereotypes, comfort or lack of empathy?
Do we ever really question with an open, untainted mind?
If we did, wouldn't we then question ourselves and our own opinions just as much as we do others’? Wouldn't we meet the other side with more patience and willingness to reach mutual understanding instead of „standing our ground“ by not giving in? And do we only question something when it is actually affecting us? Or do we question something out of convenience so we don’t have to change our own opinion or behaviour?
I don't really have an answer for that, and everyone will probably have their own. It's rather questions that I think we all should be asking ourselves every now and then.
I'm aware that we cannot fact check every post, video, comment or person we see online. Considering the amount of information that we get bombarded with every day, it is probably impossible just from a mental capacity standpoint. But that’s not what I’m trying to say here.
What I’m trying to say is that maybe every time we're in a situation where we do exactly that – jump to conclusions about someone who is confronting us with something that riles us up, and we quickly label them without trying to understand and listening properly – maybe that’s when we should stop for a moment and ask ourselves, why? Why are we so quick to judge?
And why aren't we trying to look at the message itself, detached from the messenger? Just for a second. Even or maybe especially if it's something we haven't considered or that we've straight up dismissed up until now. Maybe it's worth looking into a bit more after all?
What got me thinking about all of this among other things is for one, the fact that I am now putting myself out there to share my views and opinions, and secondly, that I added labels to myself. I'm vegan now and I'd like to be an activist – two labels that are viewed so differently depending on who you ask.
So then, does that alone really describe who I am?
Is that alone all there is to know about me to understand where I'm coming from with the things I share and how I share them? Sure, you can get an idea about what I'm interested in and what my values might be.
But does it also tell you that I'm a sister? With a brother who I wouldn’t swap for anything, even though our worldviews are like day and night and therefore he rarely listens to anything I tell him about veganism or sustainability?
Does that make me, like he says a hippie? Or as I would put it, simply right and he should just finally start listening?
Does it tell you that I grew up in a supportive, loving home, with parents who always let me know that whatever I do, they will be there for me, even if I fail? And that I think that’s why I was always inclined to look for “more”, like a higher purpose?
Does that, as they sometimes say, make me a dreamer? Or as I would put it a venturer? Or am I just spoiled and privileged?
And does it say that I easily get overwhelmed by people, because I suck at small talk and feel like the topics that I keep myself busy with are too weird to talk about so I rather say very little?
Does that make me shy and an introvert or just a deep thinker, who does talk, just not easily with everyone?
And does it say that I so badly want to make a difference and wish I could save every animal in the world?
Does that make me a hopeless idealist or inspiring?
And does it say that I sometimes rather say nothing even though I have an opinion? Because even though I can write long blog posts, when it comes to talking I'm usually lacking the right words. And although I understand the things I learn about and adopt them into my own life, I forget the „why“, which ends up in me not being able to properly explain these things to others and make my point.
Does that make me naive, less intelligent or just more practical and a doer rather than a talker?
Does it say that these are reasons why I feel so comfortable up here out in the middle of nowhere in my own little space full of furry creatures who never label me for any of my behaviour or opinions?
Well, I guess I'm drifting off... Seems like I'm in dire need of people to finally get me. Maybe I should forward this post to everyone I have ever met... But that would definitely make me... a weirdo! No question about that.
So I guess what I want to say is...
There usually is more to a person than meets the eye. And when you notice that you really want someone to understand where you’re coming from, try and do the same for them. And it's fine if you stick to your opinion, no matter what they say. But if you do, then really what's the harm in truly listening for a change, without any attempt of making your point clear?
Yes of course, all of this is easier said than done — we all have days when we could kill everyone who is looking at us the wrong way. Or sometimes we just can’t stand the other person’s stupid face or dumb outfit and that’s reason enough not to listen for even a second. Because what does someone with such bad taste know about anything? Believe me, I get it. But as I have said before and will keep saying again, awareness is the first step. Switching off the auto-pilot and slowly starting to take control over your reactions and responses. And by that maybe we can free ourselves from believes and opinions that we thought were ours but were actually something we only grew up believing to be true.
So let me end this post with another quote and a short conclusion.
„Reexamine all you have been told“- Walt Whitman
Be open, be empathetic and try to look beyond the obvious, which nowadays is usually just a bunch of labels that can't possibly grasp what a person is all about and certainly don’t tell their whole story. And always keep in mind, everyone is insecure about something. I find that if I tell myself that, it’s a lot easier to look behind some of the weird behaviours we all display every now and then and not reduce a person to that. And lastly, try to meet people and have conversations with the goal of mutual understanding instead of „winning“ by being right. That’s it. Might be worth giving a try?
Some of the thoughts in this post are inspired by Dr. Melanie Joy, who is an American social psychologist and author, specializing in relationships, communication, and social transformation.
But a lot of them stem from many honest conversations with my partner in grumpiness, Andrea, who keeps challenging me to stay critical of myself and others, who I can tell every thought I have and who continiously makes me question my own opinions. And with that, but also by sharing her perspective and experiences, she helps me to stay open-minded, which surely never is an easy task. For anyone.