Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Humility and Communication

It is very difficult to communicate ideas effectively. It is especially difficult to communicate to an audience that disagrees with you from the get-go. How can you communicate to a group of fundamentalist Christians the theory of evolution in a way that will be accepted? How can you communicate to a Pro-Choice group the evils of abortion in a way that will impact their attitudes. What about capital punishment? Is there a way to present to supporters of capital punishment a sound case for its elimination?

Communication in all cases is a challenge. When you are speaking to a hostile audience you need to be especially creative. First of all, you cannot rely only on facts. Facts are always suspect. The only time people will accept your facts without question is when they already agree with you. Secondly you need to recognize that whatever you believe to be true may not be true. How can you expect your opponents to have an open mind to a new way of seeing something when you yourself are fixed in your viewpoint? The acknowledgement, at least to yourself, that your viewpoint may not be entirely correct creates the possibility that your listener can at least begin to identify with your flexibility and willingness to see their viewpoint.

We are living in a difficult time. We are faced with major challenges in regard to potential nuclear war, economic globalization, environmental upheaval, and accelerating technological and scientific advancement. We will not be able to hold back the tide of change. We need to figure out how to move ahead and communicate with each other in a spirit of cooperation. We need to learn to accept views that are opposed to our own and communicate our views in a way that will not create resistance but will break down barriers.

In the political realm rhetoric and charisma need to be replaced by wisdom and humility. Socrates said, "The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing." This is a great starting point for any attempt to make real change in our world and deal with the multitude of challenges that face us today.

Theoretical physics is beginning to create a more detailed description of our world as one in which the reality that we see is not exactly what it seems to be and is mostly a creation of our consciousness. The theories and research of our scientists, the creative output of our poets, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and philosophers, have always led the way in our evolution as a species and the development of our society.

We need to be sensitive to the thinking of those who are not constrained by the past and who have the courage to express their vision of the future. As the Dalai Llama, the leader of a three thousand year old religion says, "If the theory of physics disproves the ideas of Buddhism, we need to change Buddhism." This is a good thought from a smart guy. We should listen and modify our communication to be more in tune with the realization that we might not be always right.

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