In a class I used to teach, we discussed the (particularly American) tendency to listen to another speak just long enough to form our reply. Then we stop hearing the other person, even if they are still saying something, because we are working on what we will say next. It feels faster and more productive this way; if I don’t have an immediate response I’ll look dumb; yes yes yes, let’s just get back to the point I was trying to make.
We miss a lot when we don’t listen to learn. We miss everything else the other person is saying. We miss an opportunity to hear and connect with and be influenced by this person more fully.
During a ride back to my hotel from a holiday party the other night, I remembered this, and willed myself into silent, active listening.
The previous 20 minutes had been a textbook display of two people talking at each other, my driver unleashing a torrent of nonfactual propaganda, punctuated with my insistent questions, “Where did you learn this? What’s the source of these numbers? Who told you this? How do you know it’s true?”
His response, predictably: “Google it! It’s everywhere!”
Stop. Breathe. Listen.
He repeated nearly every urban legend, cautionary tale, nightmare, and flat-out lie generated this year. I was mildly belittled, condescended to, patronized, mansplained, and put in various boxes in which I don’t actually belong. I listened to his fairy tale dream of the world to come in the next presidential administration. “Just watch, Antoinette,” all wrongs will be righted and justice will prevail.
After 25 minutes of listening to learn, Google Maps showed we were close to my hotel. I broke into the tirade, “Listen, I met you not even an hour ago. You seem like an incredibly nice person. I’m sorry that 2016 has been so tough for you, and I hope that the president-elect delivers on all the promises that will improve your life, and our country. But if he doesn’t, I just ask that you dig deeper, and fact check what you hear. Don’t just assume that something is true because Google shows you search results. Click through, see who is writing this stuff, and make sure they are not driven by political, corporate, or foreign interests.”
The next morning, he sent me a text: