Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Morality Starts With Listening: Why Can't We Be Good?

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Notwithstanding the fact that we live in the age of modern communications in which many of you are also active contributors as bloggers, writers, PR and media people of some kind, more often than not, the very core foundations of what communication really is seem to be deeply lacking from the very individuals that should promote them best. I am not referring to anyone in particular... I am just noting, that while superficial abilities to voice and digitally spread one's own ideas via new media have greatly expanded, the same has not happened to our individual abilities to understand the basics of reality perception and to communicate them in more effective ways.

Photo credit: Franziska Richter

As far as I am concerned, I must still thank SFSU, the unforgettable San Francisco state-owned campus where I spent my college years back in the early eighties. But while I was very lucky to be able to do my studies there, for a long time I was unable to understand the connection between listening, or for that matter interpersonal communication, awareness, human potential, personal responsibility and a lot of other apparently irrelevant disciplines with media, broadcasting and film, which were back then my core interests.

But thanks to the great guidance of truly unique professors like Dr. Art Hough and Dr. Dick Marsh, what seemed so alien to me became gradually the core foundation of my own living and communication strategy.

The human potential, the power of the mind, reality consensus, paradigms, how we build reality, the skills of interpersonal communication became gradually the pillars of my newfound communication knowledge. Without understanding how our human reality is created and how to effectively communicate with other people, it became rapidly clear that one could only be an incomplete communicator.

This is why I have chosen to bring to you today a short seven-minute video, that clearly explains the importance of listening and how we often misinterpret what this action really means.

Jacob Needleman, author of the book "Why can't we be good?" and professor of Philosophy at San Francisco State University, argues that the act of listening is a critical step in the development of personal morality.

Be Good

Here, recorded in video, Dr Needleman explains why listening is such a critical asset in developing personal morality.

Jacob Needleman does make some very interesting points on the issue of effective communication and the ability to truly listen.

His view, like mine, is that when two people passionately disagree on some issue they do not have to arrive at a point where they hate or would even want to harm each other, as we see more and more often happening around us both at the local and the global levels.

To listen to the other person means not confronting who is right or wrong, or finding where the reasoning of the other is fallacious. Not at all. Listening means welcoming someone to express her ideas freely and sincerely, without being censored, invalidated, interrupted, corrected or made wrong.

Listening, says Needleman, is like inviting a guest into your house. You let your guest in and you welcome him into the house, you show her the rooms and offer him a tea. To do that, without mixing up your opinions and hers and getting caught into a mental battle for who is right, you have to create a space in your mind, an opening, a way to let the other person thoughts come truly in.

Listening is not catching your partner off guard or waiting for her first pause to throw in your own point or view, nor is about being right or proving her wrong. But that's what I see in most any human conversation exchange I see happening in front of me.

Listening requires being able to turn off your own ego, your opinions, your own internal judge and to sincerely listen, with an open-mind and heart to the other one. Without prejudice.

That doesn't mean you have to agree with the other person. Not at all. But unless you let the other person fully express herself and fully acknowledge and feed-back what you have understood of her idea, you are not having a true conversation with anyone. You are just talking to yourself.

If you like Jacob Needleman and would want to see and hear more of him, here is the full and unedited recording of his one hour lecture about "Being Good". Thanks to wonderful FORA.TV for having made this available to everyone and enjoy the great mental workout it provides.


Jacob Needleman is also the author of several other books, including The American Soul, The Wisdom of Love, Time and the Soul, The Heart of Philosophy, Lost Christianity, and Money and the Meaning of Life. In addition to his teaching and writing, he serves as a consultant in the fields of psychology, education, medical ethics, philanthropy, and business, and has been featured on Bill Moyers's acclaimed PBS series A World of Ideas.

Originally written by for Master New Media and entitled "Morality Starts With Listening: Why Can't We Be Good"

Readers' Comments    
2007-09-10 01:19:05

Don Pardo

You're welcome, Robin. I'm impressed not only by your gracious acceptance of the criticism, but by the fact that your response contains not a trace of defensiveness, resentment, dismissal, or hostility.

Let me thank -you-, then, for your always pleasant demeanor and your obvious willingness to improve.

How refreshing!

2007-09-09 16:24:57

Gus Griffin

This is an excellent posting, Robin. I use and teach communication skills every day in my work and I am delighted to have discovered a new technique from Dr Needleman - a deeper way to bring heart into conflict in a natural (not contrived) way.

I would also like to comment on Don Pardo's criticism of your choice of words. While technically correct, I find his tone and method of correcting you arrogant and offensive. If I had to choose between the obvious excellence of the content of your postings and better articulated but less meaningful content elsewhere, then I would always choose you. I enjoy your passion, even if the words get tumbled about in the process sometimes. It's not hard to figure out what you're meaning to get across. I suggest Mr Pardo addresses his low irritation threshold and counts his blessings that he has you to read at all.

2007-09-09 10:45:51


Needleman makes a very important point here and thanks to you Robin, for picking out this short presentation.

The ability to listen, to grant the other person a space, regardless of our not being of the same opinion is so important, it can hardly be overstated.

I find myself deficient in this many times and I imagine many others do as well.

2007-09-09 01:59:14

Robin Good

Hi Don,
and thanks for your positive and targeted criticism.

You are very right and I will insist on improving on the points you mentioned.

I have made a couple of corrections to this article including replacing "nevertheless" with "notwithstanding" which I truly mixed up yesterday.

Thanks for your patience and the time you spent providing this valuable feedback.

2007-09-09 01:26:14

Don Pardo

Because you're writing about communication, I feel obliged to point out your serious misuse of the word "nonetheless," especially because it's the first word in your piece.

"Nonetheless" is an adverb. It's a synonym for "nevertheless." As such, it makes no sense whatsoever in your lead sentence. I'm assuming from the context that you meant to open with, "Notwithstanding the fact that...", or simply, "Although...." (The rest of the article needs editing and correcting, too, by the way.)

In any case, I agree that good communication skills are a rarity on the web, and to help remedy that situation, I hope you'll consider employing a capable copy-editor to clean up your articles on a regular basis.

You have a lot of good ideas, Robin, but often it's too tedious (or annoying) a task to slog through and mentally reword your prose in order to figure out what (we can only assume) you're trying to convey.

Best of luck!

posted by Robin Good on Saturday, September 8 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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