Sunday, June 07, 2020

What Kind of Listening?

I will blog this one throughout the day, as an experiment of form. I would more usually not hit "publish" until I had rounded everything into some kind of shape, but today I will publish as I go.

I have lessons of great wisdom - a few - that I have learned over the years.  They save me trouble, heartache, and wasted effort.  At least, I think they would, if I ever remembered them at the appropriate times. It is the difference between knowledge and wisdom to bring forth a word in season.  I may have learned to specialise in words out of season instead.  True words, but in the wrong place: too late or too early, too public or too private.

So in the whole controversy about George Floyd, I urge you all to "Wait and See." It occurred to me in the early hours of the morning as I was sleepless that I don't actually know anything, only things I have been told.  I haven't watched the video.  I haven't read the autopsy or a summary of it. I haven't even listened to anything that would qualify as a detailed analysis of any aspect.  I just got sucked into following the news again in gradual steps, following a headline or reading a reference.  After Michael Brown (Hands Up, Don't Shoot) and Trayvon Martin you'd think I would have learned not to jump to conclusions.  The first report is at minimum incomplete, and sometimes flat wrong.  People work hard to get in to control the narrative.  They do this because it works on a lot of us, as in the examples I cited above, still widely believed to be examples of racism despite the lack of supporting evidence.

What happens to a society where people keep believing...I won't finish the sentence. It's discouraging.

Actually, maybe people do know what it's like.

Nice people have been resolving to listen more, and encouraging others to do the same. My hope is that this is merely useless, as any effect it has is likely to be negative. Yes, it seems horrible to speak out against listening.  We are told since earliest years how important it is to listen, that it is the way to kindness and wisdom.  I don't advocate being dismissive, of emphatically not listening and walking away, but we've learned in the therapy biz, finally after many years, that encouraging people to tell their stories is not as good for them as we once thought. It gives everyone the impression that something has happened when it has not.

In the context of racial reconciliation, listening to the story of a black woman who has had a hard life and experience of prejudice still leaves thirty million black people whose stories you don't know.  But you have the growing idea that you think you have.  If you can get it up to a dozen stories you think you really know something. Now, if you just interact with black people, doing things with them and being attentive for bits of their story coming out, you don't have the misapprehension that you know much about the group.  You know things about your friend Francine or James.

Evangelicals have a tradition of people getting up and telling their stories, but the context is using personal examples as an example of something being taught.  Jesus told stories, and we can regard much of the Bible as a story that God is telling us. But those were tied to clear lessons.  There is not a command to tell other people your life, nor are there examples of disciples going to other places to hear their stories, but to see what God is doing among them, and tell them what he is doing in your life.

No, it's not the same thing.  It's not the same thing at all. There are people who like to have the floor and talk about themselves.  It's not good for them. When you start a listening campaign, you are privileging certain types of voices, and you are only allowing certain types of answers.  Well-meaning people don't recognise how much they are silencing some voices and ignoring other answers.  People grow in unity by having common goals or interests. They grow in disunity when they talk about how wrong things are.


Sure, go ahead.  Put it in words why I'm wrong. We leap to the conclusion that because there are good things about some kinds of listening, that all kinds of listening are good for what ails ya. We have leapt to that conclusion here.  Nice people don't like to feel helpless.  They want to do something but what they first think of is we'll just double down and be even nicer.  That'll work. The English and Scandinavians are particularly prone to this. (I'll take other nominations.)

"The tendency to increase the strength of a belief based on an incorrect perception that your viewpoint is underrepresented in the public discourse.” That's the Tim Tebow Effect. At the moment people think their point of view isn't being heard.  I feel like I've done a fair bit of listening over the years.  I don't think that's the problem here. 


PenGun said...

OK. I find if I assume everyone is lying to me, the truth emerges, as the lies reveal themselves ... well because they are lies. Having a very wide variety of sources is perhaps the most important way to dig truth out of the mess we call media. Echo chambers abound.

Common sense is useful too, but not popular these days.

GraniteDad said...

I’m confused- why are we in “Wait and See” mode when the video and autopsy details are out there? With Michael Brown we had incomplete details and a shaped narrative. But here we have video from a few different angles and multiple (somewhat competing) autopsy reports.

Roy Lofquist said...


We are in the “Wait and See” mode because it is a fundamental part of our way of life.

"Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense."

Ben Wyman said...

I think there’s a lot of “we don’t ACTUALLY know” of what’s going on in terms of violence during the protests, especially with heaps of Twitter video with minimal context. Not to mention the half-baked plans for solving the problems that give me a LOT more questions than answers.

But the George Floyd part is really clear. I don’t think we have any more to wait on there.

GraniteDad said...

I’m just trying to confirm, is your position that Americans may not have an opinion or learn relevant facts about a criminal case until the jury has reached a verdict? If so, that’s a heck of a stance.

james said...

Or is the "wait and see" with respect to the alleged patterns? I have heard a lot of anecdotes this past week.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I consider videos that went viral to be much more likely to obscure information than reveal it, as with Covington. I don't have any suspicions of anything new that will come up, but I also see no harm in waiting. I felt similarly about the autopsy - I hadn't even known there were competing versions, so I feel a slight vindication even without seeing either. People decided they knew what was up and destroyed a lot of downtown businesses. I think my policy gets the nod on that basis alone.

The last time I remembered to take this stance was with Justice Kavanaugh. When people want you to hurry and take to the streets today, I don't think it works out well.

Roy Lofquist said...

@Granite Dad,

You can have any opinion you want. Idiots abound.