ATTACKING COMMUNICATION: HOW INTENT AFFECTS UNDERSTANDING

“Where everyone is heard”.  You can call it a motto, a tagline, a slogan or a mission statement, but since I started working for Dialog One, to me it has represented a belief; a belief that everyone has the right to be heard.  Being a beacon of communication, this belief is something I’ve been very proud of and stand for, not only as a company, but as a way of being individually.  In light of the recent violence we’ve seen in the last month, I’ve been questioning aspects of communication like the responsibility of listening, and where/how that fits in with the belief that everyone has the right to be heard.

The terrorism and violence in France, Kenya, Nigeria, and even locally in Coon Rapids with the attack on the woman at Applebee’s for speaking Swahili, have prompted me to think deeply about communication.  If we viewed self-expression (sharing information) and listening as living organisms, I would classify them as having a symbiotic relationship.  They are codependent but also often mutually exclusive given the human condition.  Our experiences, our morals, and our convictions all determine how/if what is being expressed is understood.  With help from a dictionary, I define “understanding” as perceiving the intended meaning or being sympathetically or knowledgeably aware of the character or nature of something.  It does not mean to agree or disagree with it.  Certainly people who commit acts of violence like these have a motive; a message or idea that they want to spread. Through examining this, I thought to myself, “If everyone has the right to be heard, does everyone have the right to be listened to?”  I assert that the answer to this resides within intention.

When you are listening, you are actively trying to hear something.  Conversely, you can hear something without any intentional effort.  Through this definition of activity, you can see how intention is the key to how you receive information and if you understand it.  If we accept that being understood is the purpose or desired outcome of providing information through self-expression, we can see how intention is also the key in sending it.  We can now say that all expressions of self are sent with the intention of being understood.  In using this logic we’ve proven that if the action of self-expression is for the purpose or desired outcome of being understood, then it must be delivered with the intention of invoking an intentional reaction.   This intentional reaction is listening.  Ultimately we can conclude that an understanding can only occur if someone chooses to listen.  This process as a whole is called communication, and as usual, a breakdown of this is the problem.

I believe that you cannot force someone to listen to you.  It is clear that some people in the world believe that you can.  These are the people that use threats, violence, and persuasion tactics like lies to force others to listen to them.  What that does is force a short term and immediate outcome to something that is really in need of a long term solution.  Coming to an understanding is true or pure communication, and that is impossible if your self-expression causes intentional harm to the audience.  When intentional harm is used to force people to listen, the human condition dictates that we will enter survival mode where we are subjugated to the most primitive of our emotions like anger and envy among others.  That is when our experiences, our morals, and our convictions prevent listening, which remember, is understanding.  One could argue that experiences and morals help us to understand, but I suggest only as relating through other feelings like empathy.  A real understanding and thus true or pure communication is more of a compromise.  It is the acknowledgement that one party has the intention of being understood, and that the other party is actively trying to hear them by listening.  This is why acts of expression such as peaceful protests or works of art/music are more successful in garnering understanding in the long run than the alternatives.  Those actions allow for a space to be created for understanding to happen and exist organically rather than using acts of force like violence, which fills this space with the noise of the human condition.  This is why the choice to use force as a means to be understood is counterproductive and will always fail, because listening is choice reserved for another, and is out of your control.  By intentionally harming others, you can only be heard, and not listened to.

Everyone has the right to be heard.  This statement is not my belief anymore.  The word “right” implies judgment, morality and acceptance.  These are attributes that vary among everyone.  In reflecting on the recent acts of violence we’ve seen in the last month, I realized that everyone can be heard if they choose to express themselves loudly enough.   It’s not about being heard, it’s about being listened to, about being understood.   Thus, being listened to cannot be a “right” for the same reason.  Being listened to is the outcome of another’s intentional choice to accept how you choose to express yourself.  I suggest you be aware and truthful with your intentions when you chose to express your self.  Do you want to make noise or be understood?  When Dialog One states, “Where everyone is heard”, I now believe it was never meant to mean the right to be heard or listened to but rather as a declaration that we are an agreed upon location for you to express yourself to others who are willing to actively hear you.  In other words, it means that Dialog One is a place that creates a space for the process of communication to occur and exist. How you intend to use that space is your choice.