I’m not looking to pick a fight here about whether the world is a mess or not. I agree with Penn Jillette – the trend line is positive. But there is a basic observation here for why anything at all involving people might be fucked up. Families, groups, companies, countries, cultures, etc.
1. People don’t listen.
I don’t mean that their ears aren’t working, I mean it’s rare for person A to genuinely try to understand what person B is trying to say. Instead they’re waiting for their chance to speak. And the fact that people aren’t listening makes the person speaking feel like they’re not being heard. So they talk louder and make more noise. But talking louder mostly makes people want to listen to you less, so the negative feedback loop ensues, leading to anger, rage, and rash acts, all motivated primarily by the absence of acknowledgment, not the facts being argued.
If ever you meet an angry person, odds are good they’re a person seeking to be heard, to be acknowledged or validated in some very simple way, and doesn’t know how to get it, so they’re acting out. It’s amazing how people’s behavior changes when they simply feel someone is truly listening.
2. People don’t read.
I have this short blog post, called how to write a book, that basically says it’s work and like all work you just go and do it. This post gets 1000s of views daily. It currently has 420+ comments and generates lots of email. Much of it is in the form of “I don’t want to do the work. Can you tell me how to get around the work?” Which is mystifying. I’m not saying people shouldn’t look for shortcuts, but if you read even one paragraph of the post, it’s clear I’m the last guy in the world to ask. Yet they do. Why? They’re not reading, at least not in any sense of the word that involves thinking.
There is another mental process that seems like reading, but it’s really skimming, looking for the single thing you’re hoping to find, rather than trying to understand what the writer was trying to express and perhaps change your thinking about something. And in the case of my post, even if the singular thing they seek is not in the article, people ask for that single-minded thing anyway, despite how absurd in this case it is they’d get an answer. They’d rather take the time to write a pointless question, than read.
To spin the theory around into a conclusion:
- If people listened to each other, there would be less anger and unrest.
- If people read more carefully, even just a little, they’ll be more likely to get what they want, as there’s a chance they’ll recognize they’re looking for the wrong thing.
There’s this assumption in our culture that with all the TV shows, and books, and websites, we’re all reading more and listening more, but I doubt that. Its become increasingly acceptable not to be listening (e.g. staring at your laptop or phone in meetings) and not be reading (skimming how many emails, or blog posts, in an hour). And I bet any culture, a team, a family, a country, where there is more real listening and real reading, people are happier and more successful at achieving things that matter.
But I’ve yet to see someone monetize listening, or reading. So the whirlwind of commerce naturally encourages less listening and less reading, but more of everything else.
What do you think?