The recent events that transpired in the Quirino Grandstand have shown the good, the bad and the ugly.
We heard of some of our OFWs getting sacked from their jobs simply for being Filipino. Other stories show denial of one’s own nationality for fear of being harmed, despised or shunned. A teenage Filipina residing in Hongkong who was being harassed by her classmates said in an interview, “I told them ‘I’m Indonesian! I’m Indonesian! I’m not Filipino!’“
We have heard the inimical and edgy statements by various government officials and civilians, both from Hongkong and the Philippines. Continuous finger pointing and Pontius Pilate hand washing permeate our television sets and newspapers. The situation has grown tense. The level of trust between our countries is in the ICU unit and any kind of mistake, be it major major or tiny tiny, can further add fuel to the fire.
“Our talking and listening often fails to solve complex problems because of the way that most of us talk and listen most of the time.
Our most common way of talking is telling: asserting the truth about the way things are and must be, not allowing that there might be other truths and possibilities.
And our most common way of listening is not listening: listening only to our own talking, not to others.
This way of talking and listening works fine for solving simple problems, where an authority or expert can work through the problem piece by piece, applying solutions that have worked in the past. But a complex problem can only be solved peacefully if the people who are part of the problem work together creatively to understand their situation and to improve it.
Our common way of talking and listening therefore guarantees that our complex problems will either remain stuck or will get unstuck only by force…
My favorite movie about getting unstuck is the comedy Groundhog Day. Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a cynical, self-centered television journalist who is filming a story about Groundhog Day, February 2, in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvannia. He despises the assignment and the town. The next morning, he wakes up to discover, with horror, that it is still February 2, and that he has to live through these events again. This happens every morning: he is stuck in reliving the same day over and over. He explains this to his producer Rita, but she laughs it off. He tries everything he can order to break this pattern – getting angry, being nice, killing himself – but nothing works. Eventually he relaxes into appreciating the present, and opens himself up to the town and to Rita. Only then does he wake up to a new days and a better future.
Many of us are like Phil Connors. We get stuck by holding on tightly to our opinions and plans and identities and truths. But when we relax and are present and open up our minds and hearts and wills, we get unstuck and we unstick the world around us.
I have learned that the more open I am – the more attentive I am to the way things are and could be, around me and inside me; the less attached I am to the way things ought to be – the more effective I am in helping to bring forth new realities. And the more I work in this way, the more present and alive I feel. As I have learned to lower my defenses and open myself up, I have become increasingly able to help better futures be born.
The way we talk and listen expresses our relationship with the world. When we fall into the trap of telling and of not listening, we close ourselves off from being changed by the world and we limit ourselves to being able to change the world only by force. But when we talk and listen with an open mind and an open heart and an open spirit, we bring forth our better selves and a better world. ”
– Adam Kahane, author of “Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening and Creating New Realities”
In our everyday conversations with other people, we all operate on a common assumption: when we say something, the receiver will understand it perfectly.
As we all know, assumptions are dangerous. When we assume, we draw certain (imagined) conclusions and formulate (somewhat educated) guesses. What I’m trying to say is that we have all been burned once or twice because of maling akala (incorrect assumption).
Why does our real message get lost in translation? Because all individuals have filters and, whether we accept it or not, filters complicate communication. Here’s a quick rundown of a number of things that can skew the real message that we want to communicate or water down what we should have heard:
Status in a group
Bias / prejudice / stereotypes
Volume of voice
Amount of information
We sometimes forget that most of the people we talk to do not have our point of view.
They did not have the same unique family background, education, and childhood experiences. Our historical melodies have distinct timbres and rhythms which evoke distinct undertones that other people may not necessarily comprehend or appreciate at first. We may be using the same words but these “common words” may bear different definitions to the persons in communication.
In short, they are not us. We cannot assume that they perfectly understand the text and the subtext always, all the time.
The first step towards open talking is the acknowledgement that you “do not know the truth about anything.” (Easier said than done eh?) The crux of the matter is that the root of not listening is knowing.
If there is one thing that I always try to remember in any dialogue that I am in, it is this: the listener also has other truths which may simply be striking my blind spots – the things that aren’t in my line of vision because of the truths I have nurtured and lived comfortably with.
It is better when we talk with the point of view of the learner foremost in our minds. This difficult step is something that we have to deliberately take if we are to create new realities and help bring about desired futures. Honestly, it took awhile for me to practice this. In my view, there is weight and worth in making an effort of stepping into another person’s shoes and walking around in their skin so that real communication can happen.
The person at the receiving end of the message has an equally important role as well. He or she must listen, give feedback, pose questions or acknowledge commonalities and differences. In other words, he or she ought to participate in the conversation.
Peter Senge said that
“Listening requires opening ourselves. Our typical patterns of listening in difficult situations are tactical, not relational. We listen for what we expect to hear. We sift through others’ views for what we can use to make our own points. We measure success by how effective we have been in gaining advantage for our favored positions. Even when these motives are covered by a shield of politeness, it is rare for people with something at stake truly to open our minds to discover the limitations in their own ways of seeing and acting.”
The person sending the message must likewise provide the open spaces for the receiver to pose said questions, listen to the receiver and be sensitive to what he or she may not be hearing. It is an iterative rather than a linear process. They did not call it dialogue – dia (across) and legein (speak) referring to two or more people in conversation – if it was only for one person talking down and nobody listening.
In school, we were wired – no wait, brainwashed – to think that there is only one right answer. Mathematical equations forced us to use various ways to get to that one right answer that our teacher already had in his/her answer key. During class recitation in Biology or Chemistry, it was apparent that the teacher wanted to hear the specific scientific term or equation that was in our respective textbooks. Majority of our lives in school – from age 6 to 18 or so – we were all in pursuit of that ONE right answer that would help us reap awards and recognition.
It is the same “There is only one right answer” attitude that has freaked out my fellow fresh grads last year as well as this year (perhaps even next year?). I have met with some of them and I hear the same concern only phrased differently: How do you know what you want and recognize that it’s actually what you want? How do you make the right decision?
This perennial question shakes them to their core perhaps due to the attitude that has been subconsciously drilled inside our heads: that we had to find the one right answer so that we don’t mess up and make a mistake. We have been brought up in a society that expects us to get it right lest you be ridiculed for your decision.
But then there is no one right answer – especially when it comes to systemic and complex societal divides that have been brought about by various stakeholders and interrelationships over a significant period of time. The evolution of how leaders respond to societal change is likewise hard proof of not having one magic bullet that will solve everything.
The Quirino Grandstand incident drew a lot of potential “answers” to the messy systemic symptom that has again manifested. Yet, it is likewise during this time that openly talking and listening openly can come in handy. Suspending our prejudices, setting aside our emotional state and using common language are just a few of the actions that we can take to address the “filters” that will perpetually hound us. We have the opportunity to truly share our minds, wills and hearts.
This incident has brought out the good in the Filipino. I have read blogs and seen videos that show both Pinoys/Pinays and foreigners alike showing how proud they are of our People. More than that, my reason is simple: we are a resilient bunch of people who are still hopeful despite the despondency that others seem to shove to our faces. Sabi nga nila, ang pag-asa ay ang pagtanaw sa posibilidad ng imposible.
Kailan pa nga ba maipapakita ang kayang makamit ng ating bansa kundi sa panahong hindi pinaniniwalaan na mayroon pang pagbabagong maaaring mangyari?
“Who we are might be predetermined. The path we follow is always of our own choosing. We should never allow our fears or the expectations of others, to set the frontiers of our destiny. Your destiny can’t be changed but it can be challenged.”