Why the world is a mess: a theory

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:

  1. If people listened to each other, there would be less anger and unrest.
  2. 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?

54 Responses to “Why the world is a mess: a theory”

  1. Mick

    I agree!! I think you have hit the nail on the head.

  2. Peter

    I believe the world is in a mess, because of mans academic education.
    I have read most of the posts skimmed a few. All the posts are meaningful, one thing is clear, nearly everyone whos commented are well academically read, one person mentioned about words, sometimes you need a dictionary beside you, there are words I’ve not seen before.
    Maybe thats why people skim?
    Why the world is in a mess? 1. Academic education; man thinks he knows everything, we real know nowt. We only thing we do, (somepeople think they know everything, because of their A E), we don’t know what lifes about, we don’t know how to create lif, we don’t know ourselves. We don’t know how life started, we don’t know about space, we only think we know and because they are Professors we accept, if some ordinary person came up and said this in contrast to the Prof, they wouldn’t be heard.
    We are in a mess and have created this ourselves (the minority have, those in power) we have accelerated more over the past 100yrs. Because of greed, power, money, mixed together with academic education this as taken us down the materialistic pathway. Very few are on the spiritual pathway.
    Maybe this is moving to a new topic, but its hinted in the comments, if one is intune spiritually, instinctively they know what is right and what is wrong, false or true, this maybe why people can understand the context without fully reading it, they know within, thats not to say everybody who skims understands.
    We have moved away from our inner knowledge and the very core of life.
    We have to have leaders, thinkers, doers, clearers, we should have respect, honesty, we should have learnt by now how to unite and be as one. Until that time we will be in a mess.
    We are now in a new era, the time of awakening.

    1. Tess Bois

      I just have to comment on the argument of doing what is right based on how spiritually in tuned a person is. No one, not even the “spiritual” amongst us can tune into doing what’s right. There are so many ethical and moral considerations in each case to determine course of action, it’s better to use Aesop’s fables to determine what’s right before any sort of spiritual basis.

      I agree with the article, we don’t listen and we don’t read. If we did we may determine the thick web of lies and deceits even within our own belief system, especially our belief system.

      Once we read and listen, we can plot a course of action based on information we have in front of us. It won’t be perfect but it will be created from a desire to act from best case understanding at that point in time.



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