Stop. Look. Listen. These three words are the driver’s mantra when coming to an unmarked railroad crossing. In our current upheaval of anger, pain, confusion, and fear, the admonishment to stop, look, and listen could keep us from hurling invectives and instead, begin seeking understanding.
Words have the power to trigger instant emotions and behaviors. In fact, even incorrect words, delivered in a certain manner, can jump start us to respond in ways that would be different if only we had stopped and thought carefully about what was said.
As a word merchant, I know that a simple word, given the right inflection and the right innuendo can stir up emotions. Claude Pepper, in a long-forgotten race for the Florida Senate, did just that in a rather uneducated part of the Sunshine State. He accused his opponent of practicing monogamy. He stated that his opponent’s sister was a known thespian in wicked New York City. Furthermore, his opponent was a devoted bibliophile. If you’re gasping in horror at these words - go use the dictionary. They are all positive words!!! But said with the right inflection, the voters recoiled at the thought of electing his opponent.
More than ever, if we are going to begin to address serious issues that impact our communities and our country, we must stop, look and listen. To be proactive, stop and LOOK reflectively at what is really going on with the speaker. Reflect back what you “think” she is feeling and sensing. Then, shut up and listen. Until one feels heard and understood, the ability to address issues remains distant.
Is listening time consuming? Yes. Is it something we do easily? No. Can it steer us to common ground? Absolutely. Until each of us truly listens to “the other”, those whose life’s experience are not ours, we’ll continue in turmoil.
For most of us, myself included, reflective inquiry is not second nature. But I am determined to learn more and practice with my coaching clients, with my neighbors, and with my community. How about you?