Tolerance can only begin with listening as well as speaking.
Conversation used to be an art or skill to be acquired, not so long ago. When did we lose this empathetic method of communication, which helped seal relationships, soothe frayed tempers, create lifelong bonds and even mend broken hearts?
“To converse is to exchange ideas or opinions,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but more often, today, we find ourselves and others bombarding each other with opinions, and there is no exchange. So, what has happened? Have we become so self-opinionated that we harangue one another without giving the other person a chance to express his thoughts? Are we churning out mindless robots from our schools and colleges, who sit in the classroom listening to the teacher or lecturer drone on for 45-50 minutes and then, in turn, bombard other people with strong opinions about anything and everything under the sun?
Television, too, is rampant with reporters finding trivial things to feature and then incessantly repeating the same piece of information umpteen times to an audience that they evidently consider moronic, since they believe that people don’t understand a simple fact, without it being repeated many times. Or on the other hand, we have TV shows where the anchor asks a question but answers it himself, without waiting for the response! Does this come from our cultural background where we expect our children to blindly follow our dictums? Or is it inherently patriarchal to give orders and expect them to be blindly followed without question? A democratic society cannot function without conversation or debates because there will always be the minority whose voice will be muffled by other, louder voices. So it is time to open up dialogues between people who can then express diverse opinions because none of us can really see anything from someone else’s perspective unless we move or change our positions. We have to consciously become more tolerant of each other’s views to encourage this exchange.
Unfortunately, in today’s India, we have barriers based on everything — language, religion, region, colour, caste, class, education and anything else we can think of! But in this rat race of one-upmanship, we have forgotten the basic tenet of a good society: humanity. So maybe if we remember that we are all human and we all make mistakes and accept that humbly, then we can change our attitudes towards each other and so reap the real benefits of our inherent diversity.
Diversity is something that countries like Germany and companies across America would like to cultivate, since therein lies the real base to innovation and achievement. Television in India should open up different ways of debating and conversing based on mutual respect, a humane approach and of course a willingness to see the other person's viewpoint rather than being the self-proclaimed judge and jury!
Is this the state in other countries too, or is this peculiar to India? In France, liberty is a fundamental right and each and every French citizen demonstrates this in different ways. To illustrate this freedom, the President of the country is regularly caricatured on prime-time national television. People express their opinions freely and without fear of repercussions. To the French, their rights are very important and everyone knows them. A way of reprimanding children is to say, “Tu as pas de droite,” which loosely translates to “you don’t have the right.” This amply demonstrates the self-knowledge of rights. Conversation and debates are skills to be cultivated, nourished and grown; otherwise we run the risk of becoming isolated, opinionated and generally insufferable as a community. Tolerance can only begin with listening as well as speaking.
To conclude, as the English critic and essayist William Hazlitt put it in his Selected Essays (1778-1830), “The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard.” We need to open up to a different perspective and opinion than ours and also to practise listening to different people express their views on the same topic.
(The author is a communication specialist, academician and corporate trainer. She lives in the South of France and teaches Business English. She speaks five languages.)