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Thursday
Dec182014

A New Paradigm to Fix the World - Fixing Failing to Consider

In the iconic movie Cool Hand Luke, the prison Captain played by Strother Martin uttered on more than one occasion the iconic line, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

That situation appears every bit as present today as it was then.  The reason it continues is what underlies a failure to communicate.  And that is a failure to consider.

Truly considering another person’s POV means comprehending it, understanding it and most importantly “feeling” it from their side.  I think few would disagree with psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion’s suggestion for accomplishing the best possible communication which is to “listen without memory or desire.”  By that he meant to listen without having a past or future personal agenda that you are trying to plug someone into or having a POV that you are listening selectively from in order to confirm it.

To improve any relationship deeply considering some one else’s POV is the very thing that we most need to do, but few want to do.

We all know that listening and considering what others are saying (as you would have them do to you), so why is it that most people resist it?

The simple reason is that as people are becoming more and more specialized in their thinking they become more steadfast in their resultant conclusions, beliefs and then more hard wired in the filter through which they view the world.

When you’re a hammer the world’s a nail.  When you’re China, America’s a bully.  When you’re America, you believe that you’re right which is why you believe the entire world should speak English.

Here’s the real snag.  The more specialized and siloed your POV, the narrower the area in which you feel competent, confident and in control.  This may explain why in many public companies the Board of Directors doesn’t even know the name of the CTO.  That is because those Directors don’t want to understand how or why technology works, they just want it to work.  CTO’s who make the mistake of talking too much in technological terms that are beyond the comprehension of business executives with hubris and can cause such executives to feel intimidated and stupid which they don’t take kindly to.   That was exactly the case when in the 1990’s Jack Welch famously said, “I avoided the Internet because I didn’t know how to type.”  This results in marginalizing people whose POV causes you to most lose your sense of competence, confidence and control.

Another reason we avoid considering another person’s POV, especially their feelings is the belief that if we did so, considered and then saw their beliefs as valid that it might cause us to loosen our grip on or to weaken our position (after which we’d get thrown under the bus by a superior when we returned from a negotiation who would rail against us saying that we rolled over) and make us vulnerable to them taking control over us.

Ironically anyone who has had the good fortune of seeing how useless remaining entrenched in a non-working POV is and then truly empathizing with the other side (a la Ronald Reagan’s “Call me Ron” olive branch to Mikhail Gorbachev which may have foreshadowed the ending of the Cold War) usually realizes that it opens doors much more than it opens you to an assault.  That is because bared teeth begets bared teeth, while bared necks beget bared necks.

There is actually a neurological basis for this phenomenon.  That is because empathy with the true desire to listen, understand and feel another person’s POV is a sensory function, whereas anger usually in retaliation for some perceived injury is a motor function.  In general you can’t do both at the same time or in common parlance, you can’t walk in someone else’s shoes and step on their toes at the same time.

Interestingly there appears at least one area of our brain where sensory and motor function occur almost simultaneously.  That is the part of the brain containing what are referred to as Mirror Neurons.  Mirror neurons were first discovered in the 1990’s in macaque monkeys and referred to as “monkey see, monkey do” neurons.  That is because they seemed to be involved when monkeys imitated other monkey or even other primates.  Further study has revealed that they are also found in human beings and when functioning seem related to or possibly causative in not only imitation, but learning and empathy.  They are what are responsible when we wince when we see or even imagine someone cutting themselves on a piece of paper or our imagining the sounds nails on the chalkboard. 

When not functioning properly, recent research has also implicated them in autism or autistic spectrum disorders like Aspergers syndrome, where affected individuals don’t seem able to pick up on social cues and mirror other people.

My hope is that those of you who have not already bailed on this blog will consider it and add your comments, criticism, refinements and will feel free to rip it apart as you see fit. However if you do, please offer up your solutions to the stalemated and then too often violently retaliatory world we live in.

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