Sunday, August 30, 2009

Do we listen to each other?

In our day to day, we constantly have to address the tolerance of alternative points of view, how we are to convey disagreement, and communicate an opposing argument.

It should make for a gracious society – embracing the principle of constantly revisiting and re-challenging our own dogma and philosophy. We all know that the problem, in the main, is that we are impervious, impenetrable. We dogmatically refuse to accept the possibility of non-concurring points of view that may actually be (and sometimes with amendment and refinement) superior alternatives. The nature of human pride fences us against any challenge to the way we do things and the way we think. We may lend voice to accept the existence of an alternative argument, but in our minds we question two things. First, the fides as well as the motive(s) behind what the speaker is saying. Secondly, we refuse to accept the alternative viewpoint over our own ‘superior’ argument. In the end we are solely dictated by how this alternative argument will deflect us from our agenda – let’s admit that it is a selfish agenda, and nothing more. A more sinister motive behind portraying an ostensible persona of tolerance is to see what is in the minds of those around you. Mao Ze Dong refined this to an artform in the campaign that was launched China, in 1956-57. It was known as 百花运动 –“Let a hundred flowers bloom” - a brief interlude in Communist China’s history when its citizenry was encouraged to step forward and offer differing viewpoints. Many have commented on this campaign as a useful method to sift out and ferret dissent in society, and the varying degrees of opposition that exist. The detractors to Mao’s regime were neutralised.

Do you notice that most people around you are quite ‘contrarian’ nowadays? If you do not think so, either you are currently in a position of leadership or authority where an environment of subservience has been created among those who work under or report to you; or you have chosen to only surround yourself with friends and colleagues who are in total agreement with you on all fronts. In the case of the first scenario, a sharp shock may await you around the corner. In the second scenario, you still operate under a dogma of intolerance and the single raison detre in existence is that your point of view, on many fronts, is superior and should be adhered to. What is missing is the alternative viewpoint, and challenges that we all need to synthesize the best decision for the future.

True it is that many a time a contrarian or even contradictory view point is a matter of considerable irritation. Is he disagreeing just for the sake of disagreeing, or does he have a genuine point of view and suggestion to make for the collective good? The difficulty is always wondering if a suggestion is made bona fide and with sincerity. Other times, a contrarian view is offered to manage the expectations of the recipient. The motivation may be the sheer instinct for self preservation. If the overall decision is subsequently proven to be the wrong judgement call, let it not be forgotten that someone did present the alternative viewpoint. On hindsight, “do not say I did not warn you...” Who knows what lurks in the hearts of men?

At the same time I find the phrase “Let’s agree to disagree” to be highly clichéd and undesirable. It means that attempts to establish an initial working premise all but failed. A long enduring conflict beckons. Or parties will not engage at all.

But to make for constructive debate, we must first be right with each other. An assessment of character should be made, all suspicions should be clarified and removed, before a meaningful exchange can ensue. I will never be able to accept your viewpoint, if I did not trust you or your agenda in the first place. Past mistakes, as perceived between friends, should be clarified and forgiven, for that remains the only solution that will pave the way for a new exchange.

So we have to listen to each other - over time, and with perseverance, those who are genuine friends, and who care about you and your organisation, will introduce themselves.

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