The Polarization Series: The Power of Listening

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Amidst the rise in digital technologies and new avenues for communication, the general quality of our public discourse has declined. As I have explored in this series, modern society has become increasingly fragmented and polarized. We are no longer able to search for areas of compromise or entertain opposing viewpoints.

The cause of the issue stems from our inability to truly listen to one another. In a culture that promotes individualism and self-righteousness, we are conditioned to enter into conversations with our own agenda, set of prejudices and biases. Rather than engage in the mutual pursuit of truth, we are more interested in pushing our opinion and influence onto others.

This mindset inhibits us from truly listening to and appreciating what others are saying. It blocks us off from other perspectives limiting the possibility of entering into a conversation openly, with the chance of changing our minds.

The physicist David Bohm makes an important distinction between dialogue and discussion, highlighting the key differences in these two modes of communication.

Dialogue vs. Discussion

Dialogue is centered around the shared flow of meaning and understanding between all those who are involved. The point is not to try to ‘win’ or ensure that your argument prevails, but rather to mutually search for collective wisdom and truth. This requires one to be adaptable and flexible, accepting that your original views may be wrong or ill-informed.

Good dialogue is sort of like jazz. It revolves around improvisation and spontaneity. Throughout their solos, each musician integrates the melody and phrases of the other band mates. It is a dynamic and collective process. The success of the band is determined by how well the musicians are in synch with one another. This demands that everyone listen closely to the tempo of the drums, the key of the band and the melodies of the other soloists.

Like jazz, the point of dialogue is to build off of the ideas of others, to be open-minded and fully listen to what is being said. When done correctly, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is a win-win process for all participants involved – everyone gains.

On the other hand, Bohm characterizes discussions as communication which is aimed at preserving one’s point of view. Those engaging in a discussion are motivated towards persuading others to change their minds. As a result, it is framed more as a debate embodying win-lose dynamics, as the purpose is to have your viewpoint adopted by the group.

There is a time and place for each of these conversational styles. However, social cohesion is undermined and conflicts arise when our discourse becomes increasingly centered around debate, conflict and argumentation.

A consequence of this type of thinking is that we aren’t fully attentive to what others are saying. Further, we don’t validate or clarify that we have a mutual understanding of another’s point of view, leaving room for error and misinterpretation.

As noted by the renowned physicist David Bohm in his book On Dialogue,

Surprisingly, most people have never discovered how to listen, and instead spend most of the time whilst another is speaking working out what to say the moment he or she stops

Listening

To listen attentively or mindfully, is to be completely immersed in the conversation. It is to be aware of our automatic judgements, refrain from interjection and practice empathy. Just as in the practice of meditation where we mindfully and impartially watch our thoughts pass by, a genuine dialogue requires us to do the same when conversing with someone else.

The objective is to be aware and in control of your thoughts, feelings and emotions refraining from being reactive to the situation. It is to engage with openness and be receptive to what the other person is saying.  

When disagreements do arise, research indicates that changing someone’s mind is both rare and difficult. However, techniques do exist to help you navigate through conflict and arguments.

There is only one way under high heaven to get the best of an argument—and that is to avoid it. Avoid it as you would avoid rattle-snakes and earthquakes.

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Nonviolent Communication

Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication focuses on how we can navigate through disagreements through empathy and mutual understanding.

Underneath adversarial language and conflict, lies someone with unmeet human needs. Regardless of who we are, we all have a set of foundational human needs such as health, love, respect, trust etc. The issue is that rather than explicitly communicating these unmet needs, we direct our attention towards criticizing others or defending our views on a topic.

 A good metaphor to think of here is an iceberg. What’s visible to us is the immediate disagreement, while what’s uncovered is a broader set of phycological factors affecting and issues one’s mood and behavior.

Encouraging honesty and transparency, Rosenberg identifies four communication techniques to help us when dealing with difficult circumstances:

  1. Observation: Observe what you notice about the situation objectively and nonjudgmentally.
  2.  Feelings: Express our emotions and feelings clearly and in a thoughtful way.
  3.  Needs: Make a connection between the identified feelings and your unmet human needs. You may feel upset or angry at someone because their actions violated your needs of honesty and connection.
  4. Requests:  Make a specific request in a compassionate manner to rectify the situation based on the feelings and needs you have communicated. Of note, requests are never demanded. Rather, they are asked from a place of mutual understanding and respect for the other person.

All criticism, attack, insults, and judgments vanish when we focus attention on hearing the feelings and needs behind a message. The more we practice in this way, the more we realize a simple truth: behind all those messages we’ve allowed ourselves to be intimidated by are just individuals with unmet needs appealing to us to contribute to their well-being. When we receive messages with this awareness, we never feel dehumanized by what others have to say to us

Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication

Conclusion

Genuine dialogue and discourse demands a shift from egotistical thinking to a focus on the collective wellbeing, emotions and needs of others. It changes the focus from the content of the conversation to the underlying feelings that are driving one’s behavior and attitude. Only through bringing awareness to the factors and emotions influencing our behavior can we begin to notice and change them.

As we chisel away at our own egos and silence the need to be right all the time, we can start to become more open and empathetic to the needs of others.

After all, we are all humans trying to live collectively on one planet. So rather than being prisoners to our automatic thoughts and emotions, we can all temporarily pause, take a deep breath and try to show some more compassion.

At the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled

Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication

Throughout the past year I’ve been introduced to different communication modalities from platforms like The Stoa and Rebel Wisdom, some of these include:

  1. The Circling Method
  2. Empathy Circles
  3. John Vervaeke’s work on Dialogos

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Sensemaking in the 21st Century: A Conversation with Noetic Nomads Founder Albert Kim

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Amidst the growing uncertainty of the world around us and the erosion of public trust and good faith dialogue, I was drawn to several thinkers and platforms which offered a critical analysis of the current state of global affairs. The frameworks and structures that we’ve relied on for so long are no longer a sufficient to make sense of events in an increasingly complex, divisive and fractured world.  With vast changes in the media, politics, economics we need to critically assess how we can become more informed and equipped to deal with the many changes, challenges and demands of the 21st century.

The real problem of humanity is the following: We have paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a crisis overall

Edward O. Wilson

Emerging in a narrow corner of the internet is a group of thinkers paving the way forward to more beautiful futures, thinking about how we can shift from zero sum (win\lose) to positive sum (win\win) societies. That is, how can we transition to a world which puts wellbeing above profit, appreciates the finite resources on the planet and ensures that everyone has an opportunity to get ahead?

Of this group is Albert Kim and his project Noetic Nomads. I have attended a couple of his sessions where he gathers a diverse range of intellectually savvy thinkers to discuss how we can foster collective wisdom and insights to address some of these difficult and complex issues we face today.

I reached out to Albert to get his thoughts on the current set of crises, and to learn more about how he navigates the modern media landscape.

  1. Tell me a bit about what got you interested in groups like the Stoa and Rebel Wisdom? What attracted you to the sensemaking space? 

I’ve been immersed in the holistic health/biohacking space for around a decade in an effort to heal/improve myself outside the conventional medical paradigm. Through podcasts such as Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Radio, I was exposed to the supplement company Neurohacker Collective around the year 2017. I then discovered the Collective Insights podcast hosted by Daniel Schmachtenberger and it had, by far, the most mind-blowing conversations I’d come across, period. Daniel eventually left the show which I lamented.

After COVID hit, I had an itch to search for more podcasts featuring Daniel, of which one was Rebel Wisdom. I then found the Rebel Wisdom YouTube and the Sensemaking 101 course, which changed my life, as well as The Stoa through a YouTube recommendation for one of Daniel’s appearances on there. So, basically, Daniel Schmachtenberger.

Sensemaking refers to the idea of making sense of the unknown and coming to an understanding of what is going on in our external environment.

2. What is Noetic Nomads and what are some of the goals of the project?

My tagline is that Noetic Nomads is a community of radical thinkers and doers coming together to co-create a more beautiful future. The primary goal of the project is to attract a diverse assortment of minds from across the disciplinary spectrum to work on projects in service of a better world. Secondary goals include providing a platform for which community members can create and publish their own content, offer services, and support themselves financially. A bigger goal is to actually bootstrap our own circular digital economy (with cryptocurrency, for example), create a digital nation, and perhaps integrate it with an intentional physical community.

3. Many have said we live in a ‘post-truth’ world, with media organizations which interpret facts to align with their existing narratives. What is your approach in sensemaking and arriving at truth?               

To state we live in a post-truth world is to presume we once lived in a ‘truth world’. I’m not sure when we lived in that world or what that world would’ve looked like. My approach to sensemaking and to arriving at truth is essentially to believe in that which is useful and/or in that which I like.

Much of the time what is useful is conforming with what many others believe, other times it’s to dissent, and there are times when it’s useful to believe in things which I know are likely far removed from any basis in ‘reality’, whatever that means. And sometimes I just believe in things which I like. I don’t think I’m much different than most people.                       

  4. Do you have any advice to try and look at different perspectives objectively, and resist the temptation to be drawn into various competing ideologies?

I don’t really believe in the concept of ‘objective’ reality—I’m more so into idea of intersubjective realities. The concept of an objective observer is a contradiction in terms. My advice to one trying to make sense is to understand that everyone including themselves is simply making up a story. It may be a useful story in one case or another, but it’s still just a story. Use your discernment to parse out which stories are most useful.

5. Lastly, how can we build a more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible?

Love, and deeply rooted connection to the universe.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You can check out more of Albert’s work at Noetic Nomads – | Connect | Envision | Alchemize | Connect with radical thinkers, artists, technologists, and spiritual practitioners. Co-create a more beautiful future.


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