"Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don't listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don't listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what's behind the words. "--Roy T Bennett
After a brief interview with my professor Dr. Yea-Wen Chen, an Associate Professor of Intercultural Communication at San Diego State University, I was left feeling inspired and encouraged about the general state of the world. In a society that holds so many predetermined expectations, the secret to moving forward is not expecting an immediate reward from your struggle. We talked about how the youth of America is facing a diminishing capacity to inspire the changes we want to see in the world. We pondered how to define this disconnect between beliefs translating to action. Perhaps the youth's increased technology poses new threats to communication and social hierarchy? Or maybe an increasing distrust in our political leaders? We pondering several causes, but all of them ultimately led to the same question:
How will we communicate differences for social change?
Dr. Chen and I danced around this question and came to a conclusion: the answer to this is a variety of actions, none of which are completely concrete.
First, we can introduce the idea of education. We trust the idea of higher education to teach us how to heighten our communication skills, but is this the correct expectation to have given that 85% of the jobs we are training for have not even been created yet? Dr. Chen poses a qualified affirmation to this question, agreeing that focusing on the technology and logistics of the education is the wrong way to go about it. With so many advancements being made, there will always be more to learn. The key is to focus on the things that won't adapt, the factors that make us innately human. Qualities like empathy, curiosity, and the ability to internalize and process important information are what we need to truly address the fairly uncomfortable issues of our generation such as mass shootings or global warming.
Touching back on expectations, Dr. Chen references that when people or situations meet our standards or expectations we are not fulfilled, but rather only when these expectations are exceeded do we begin to feel satisfaction. Pulling inspiration from black feminist Bell Hooks, Dr. Chen is inspired by the idea that we must see/identify the other in ourselves, as well as ourselves in the other, for effective communication.
Without actively practicing empathetic thought, there is no way that communication between people can be effective. With increased diversity and globalization, new problems arise all the time. If we can allow ourselves to feel deep connection that reveals our truly human links, it will help us deal with the divide of "us and them" that historically hasn't been completely distinguished.
In a society where listening is subordinate to using our voice, Americans need to learn to take a step back sometimes. By thinking to ourselves," why do I need to understand that?", or "what is the true importance of this issue?" we can cultivate a real conversation about the future. "It all comes down to personal experience", says Dr. Chen. And after all, life is too short to live it all ourselves, so sharing experiences can make all the difference.