By Jeweliana Register
In lieu of recent political controversy surrounding our nation, the importance of listening and understanding others is evident. While opposing sides may never see eye-to-eye on every issue, there are still ways for people to have insightful conversations and peaceful debates.
Listening is a concept that almost everyone has been familiar with since pre-school. We were always taught to listen when someone speaks and comprehend what they were saying. That’s where the difference between listening and hearing comes in. Leonette Lee, counselor in residence, weighed in on the issue.
“I take listening as you’re hearing the noise. You know somebody is talking to you, and every so often you may remember a word or two that they’re saying,” said Lee. “I differentiate that from hearing somebody when you really are not able to understand where that person is coming from. With hearing, you’re able to understand the message that they convey, and essentially, you’re engaged. Hearing is more engaging. More consideration [is] being given to what is being said.”
Lee said people often seem to be listening solely to plan a response.
“I think it’s first important to be honest with yourself. Are you willing to consider another perspective? I think many people know going into most conversations that are maybe on a debate level, [whether] they’re really listening to expand their current thought process or they’re listening so that they can win the argument,” said Lee. “So, it first begins with you being honest: Is this a conversation that I’m having for conversational purposes or am I just trying to argue?”
Weylin Sternglanz, associate professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience, explained that groups of like-minded people can impact an individual’s ability to consider other viewpoints, which is a phenomenon called groupthink.
“It’s when people essentially only listen to the people on their side, and do not listen to the opinions and thoughts of the other side,” he said. “It’s especially common in a close group. Basically, groupthink is when people make these decisions in a group setting and it’s often difficult to consider other viewpoints, so in this case to consider the other side of the political spectrum, because you are only talking to people in your group. So, you start to think, ‘How could anyone feel differently? Everyone in my group feels the same way. It’d be impossible for anyone to feel differently.’”
Sternglanz said that entertainment and social media sites, like Facebook, can have an impact on how people are obtaining their information. He said that they may even affect what links people look at because, people tend to look at links from people who already agree with us.
So, how can we begin to shift our mindsets from “I’m right” to “I’d like to see your side?”
According to Lee, it starts with humbling yourself and realizing you don’t know everything.
“I feel like people need to understand that when you’re in a situation, hearing somebody does not necessarily mean you are going to agree. It does, however, mean that you are going to be at least somewhat respectful if not fully respectful to seeing why they are saying what they are saying,” Lee said. “Also, not working from a place of ignorance. There’s a lot of power in the tongue, and often these people who engage in these conversations, because they can be so highly-emotional type conversations, where you can really become emotionally involved. People can end up hurt if you go into it not willing to hear somebody. So, to avoid unwanted consequences, you want to hear, you don’t want to be ignorant, you want all of the facts.”
Sternglanz said preconceived notions can affect our ability to listen and shift our mindsets.
“We’re probably going to evaluate ideas differently when they agrees with our conceptions than when they disagree with our preconceived notions, so if we hear information that agrees with those preconceived notions, we probably won’t question the validity, we will accept it,” Sternglanz said.
In a nation with so many differences, it can be hard to understand where anyone else is coming from, especially when other opinions seem so foreign and illogical, but when we step out of our familiar opinions and truly try to understand the other person’s point of view, it may be possible to reach some common ground.
Lee said that the things going on politically are fueled from a place of fear, hate and control.
“We just must be mindful of those things because those are not traits, characteristics or what have you, that lead to anything positive,” Lee explained. “To really become unified, we must work from a place that does not involve those things. They can’t both be there at the same time. It’s my hope and prayer for our nation that we will be able to hear each other more and we won’t be so stuck here. We have so many examples in history where that place has not been beneficial. Hopefully one day we will more so get it together.”