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2002-09-20 12:24 p.m.


We can be so counterproductive at times. We are taught that winning is the most important thing. And, one of the foundations of winning is being right. But, what evidence do we have that this is the best way to be? I think there may be something else out there...

Observe most peoples' discussions or arguments. What is the goal of their communication? Is it to learn from one another? Is their goal to truly understand? Do they strive for peace? Do they look for a way to learn something from the other person? No. People don't want those things. They want to be right. And, they will use any methods necessary to be right, including logic, apologetics, emotional pleas, yelling, and—when all else fails—physical violence.

Instead of a dialog, most choose to have a dual monologue. Now, a dialog is the conversational equivalent to tennis. Two people hit a ball back forth, each one reacting in the moment to the other person, each putting a different spin on what the previous person offered. Dialog requires spontaneity; no planning can take place. There is not enough time (nor any reason) to plan what you will do next, since what happens next is so dependent upon what the other person does. Conversationalist A must really observe, internalize, and devote all attention to Conversationalist B. Otherwise, you miss the ball.

On the other hand, a dual monologue is very unlike tennis. It is more like two people hurling balls at one another. Each person dedicates their thoughts to the next throw. Every moment is one of anticipation—what will I say next? Don't worry if a ball gets sent back occasionally—they can be dodged easily. In fact, there is a hidden benefit to when the other person is throwing balls at you: it gives time to plan your own next "throw". In this model, there is ample time to hide behind things; there is time to carefully craft what you will say next. All attention is on your own argument—little or no attention is placed on the other person.

As far as I can see, almost all people choose the dual monologue model of communication. But, why?

With all this throwing back and forth, the conversation becomes an arena, and the friend or loved one becomes an adversary. And a battle begins. From what I can see, "success" is when only one person is left standing, and the unfortunate loser must humble themselves and assume the loathed title of I was wrong.

If the goal is to be right and "win" at the possible expense of another person, then I can see why people have dual monologues and not dialogues. But, is this really winning?

So, let's say you are talking with someone. They think they are right about something. You disagree. If you do what is normal, you will try to show them (and the world) that you are right and they are wrong. The side–effect of this is that you feel better and they feel worse—demeaned. You have learned nothing—no time for learning as you were too busy showing them they were wrong. They have only learned that they should either not talk with you again, or else they better fight harder and dirtier next time.

Is this how we want people to feel? Who actually won?

To break this habit, one must change their definition of winning. Consider: What if each person consciously decided to make learning more important than being right? In this model, learning equals winning.

Let's take the same conversation as before. A person thinks they are right about something, and you disagree. But, you long to learn why they think that way. So, you let them explain, and you truly listen. This is easy since the ultimate goal is to learn. There is so much information to absorb! When studied, people's lives are more complex than any book! A dialog about their point of view blossoms and fruits—with understanding as the aim. And through this all, you have not even explained your point of view. It is not time yet. First learn about them until no questions remain.

What is the result of this? Well, if after all this you find that the person is actually right, you have the chance to agree with them and adopt their point of view—this way of being—into your life's vocabulary. You avoid fighting over something which you would have agreed with if you had only taken the time to understand. Best of all, you are a better person for what you have gained—knowledge. As a bonus, the friend or loved one feels great. They see that you love them enough to want to understand and truly know them.

But, what if after truly listening to them you still think they are "wrong"? Maybe ask yourself, How would I feel if I had been through all the same experiences as they have? Maybe you need to learn even more about them until you really understand their motives and feelings. Can you think of a situation which you would have handled differently if you had walked your life in their shoes?

But, if after that you still somehow fail to agree with their idea, then what is gained? Knowledge. You have learned about something you may not have known about—another way to think and be. You have been edified. For a moment you have been given magic glasses; you can know what it is like to see the world through the dizzyingly complex filter of someone else's life. And what have they gained? They know that you respect them enough to do some research into their life—they see your eagerness to relate and understand. Have no doubts: In the future that person will reflect this respect back to you and to all people they meet.

Learning, understanding, respect, and two people walking away with the first prize. Maybe I am a lunatic, but if that is not winning, then I don't know what is.