Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Seek First to Understand

Greetings All:

Saturday evening, as we were leaving the restaurant we were having dinner, the news broke that George Zimmerman had been acquitted of charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter.  I strongly suspect that if you are reading this, you have both knowledge on and an opinion of this criminal case- specifically the outcome.

I debated whether or not to write on this subject.  I purposefully try to write about things that I find positive, be them of a trivial or serious nature.  There is plenty of "bad news" out there and even more websites/cable channels/Facebook posts to address them.  However, I am going to wade into this subject as it has been on my mind for a while.  In specific, there is the issue of what provoked the fight between Mr. Martin and Mr. Zimmerman that left Mr. Martin in the company of angels and Mr. Zimmerman acquitted in a court of law yet guilty in the court of public opinion, at least certain circuits.

I did not follow the trial.  I'd catch glimpses of it here and there, the way a traveler glances at a monitor in the airport to confirm the correct gate.  Yet I mostly tuned it out.  Perhaps it was because of work and life and other obligations.  Or maybe it was that I did not want to deal with the fact a child was dead and I am a parent.  Mr. Martin and Mr. Zimmerman's mothers both took their turn in the witness chair.  Maybe my apathy to the trial was a way to hide my uncomfortableness in acknowledging a few painful facts:

1.  Someone died; and
2.  Another person (with or without justification) caused it.

In any event, the jury came back with a verdict.  I am glad that there has been almost universal acceptance (albeit grudgingly from some) of the decision.  I was profoundly impressed with how Mr. Martin's parents were stoic in their comments about the process.  I wonder if my child was theirs if I would be so noble.  I highly doubt it.

Which leads me to this:  Dr. Steven Covey.

I am a big fan of him.  His works are great and I would argue they apply to just about anyone.  Here is link to the 5th Habit from his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that I think is tragically on-point for this matter.

I think this is so meaningful that I am including with this post the actual comments from Dr. Covey.  Please take a moment and read, thanks.
"Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Communication is the most important skill in life. You spend years learning how to read and write, and years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training have you had that enables you to listen so you really, deeply understand another human being? Probably none, right?

If you're like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you're listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely. So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating. Do any of the following sound familiar?

"Oh, I know just how you feel. I felt the same way." "I had that same thing happen to me." "Let me tell you what I did in a similar situation."

Because you so often listen autobiographically, you tend to respond in one of four ways:
Evaluating:You judge and then either agree or disagree.
Probing:You ask questions from your own frame of reference.
Advising:You give counsel, advice, and solutions to problems.
Interpreting:You analyze others' motives and behaviors based on your own experiences.

You might be saying, "Hey, now wait a minute. I'm just trying to relate to the person by drawing on my own experiences. Is that so bad?" In some situations, autobiographical responses may be appropriate, such as when another person specifically asks for help from your point of view or when there is already a very high level of trust in the relationship"

So where does that leave us?

I would suggest that in light of this tragedy that we all pledge to commit to practice this habit as much as possible and with as much sincerity as possible.  I would also throw this out, for what it is worth:  There are sometimes where there is no space, no time to understand.  Napoleon is credited with the quote, "I can give you whatever you want, except time."  At the tragic, final conclusion of the confrontation of Mr. Martin and Mr. Zimmerman there was neither time, nor space to seek understanding.  If we want to first understand, then I would argue a part of understanding is to recognize when there is neither time nor space to understand and re-engage when both, or at least one, is available.  Thanks for reading and be well my friends.


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