Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Listening as An Inside Job

Hello Reader,
Got inner listening?

Every few years, I come across a slick paged popular magazine article, with a description on “listening,” advising such skills such as nodding your head, or not crossing your arms. I say: “Never mind!” 

And (figuratively) so says Richard Farson, the man who first observed and described all those visible skills, skills now taught to social workers. At the time, he was working with psycho-therapist Carl Rogers. 

What Farson says, specifically, is he wishes he had never published all those “skills.” Because, and I agree with him, it is better just to listen sincerely. (He says this in his great little book Management of the Absurd, with forward by Michael Crichton) I am sure if you are listening hard then your physical actions, if any, will take care of themselves—Better than using your skills to to fake that you are listening! 

Instead of skills, why not follow the advice of Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurly Brown who said, in her famous Mad Men era self help book, Sex and the Single Girl, (in my own words) “when you go on a date, listen really hard.” Isn’t that common sense? I guess not.

Listening “hard and sincerely” leads us into the realm of “focus.” A good word. Unfortunately, the closest the magazine articles ever get to “focus” is this advice: to paraphrase back what the other person just said. But I think “saying back” is mostly meant to make sure you interpreted right, not for helping you to stay focused on hearing what the other person is saying.

Focus means getting beyond your ego. I try. People have long said I am a good listener, which would always surprise me: Doesn’t everyone try hard? But I realize now I’ve been doing more than just trying hard: Having recently read Zen in the Art of Archery, I am aware of things beyond our everyday understanding.

Now, before I delve into the “zen” of an ego-disciplined mind, let me hasten to observe that some well-meaning people dial down their listening. Why? Because they assume they are “supposed to” be trying to “think as they hear,” meaning: thinking of what they will reply. My response? Don’t do that! Don’t try to do two things at once. Only listen. 

I am convinced it is worthwhile to wait until the other person’s sentence has come to a full stop. Only then boot up your CPU (Central Processing Unit) to think it over, and then, only after that, think of what to say. What seems to take too many seconds? Worth it! For then the person feels heard… 

In this sad world, for too many people, being heard is all too rare: No wonder I get told I am a good listener. I will always show even an impatient “type A personality” that I respect them enough to take time to listen and think. Even an impatient person will respect that. 

And hey, let’s remember, time telescopes when you are being looked at. What seems like a few long seconds? Microseconds! It’s barely a few microseconds.

I am sure there is an inner level of listening many people never achieve. From Book Three of David Gerrold’s War against the Chtorr, told in the first person, is a scene in a children’s refugee orphan camp. Even though the hero wants something from the young camp director, he isn’t truly listening. 

I made an impatient waving gesture with one hand. “I know all that, Birdie. Let’s just cut to the chase, all right?”

She turned her chair to face me, pulled it close and leaned in close. She said, “What I’m getting at is this: for someone who seen as much and done as much in the past two years as you have, you are one of the most pompous, arrogant, and unlikable bigots it has ever been my misfortune to deal with. I like you, but it doesn’t change the fact that you have the very bad habit of not really listening to people. You’re not really listening now. You’re more concerned with boogey men up in the hills than in dealing with the children you’ve supposedly accepted responsibility for. At the first…
UNQUOTE (page 289)

Key phrase: “You aren’t really listening.”

Ego. Such a strange filter. It is a listener’s weak ego, I am sure, including his “I know more than you do” that makes him assume his own concerns, during a conversation, including his thoughts about the future, are more important than the person “here and now.” Ego can filter out the big world, if we are not willing to humbly release our own little world while we listen.

But there’s another sort of filter used by the weak: Here’s a scenario from an essay by computer millionaire Paul Graham. He runs a company to advise groups of “founders” of “startup” (computer software) companies. Again the place is an office. Graham converses, but do they listen? He describes unsuccessful founders in terms of their listening.

QUOTE Like real world resourcefulness, conversational resourcefulness often means doing things you don't want to. Chasing down all the implications of what's said to you can sometimes lead to uncomfortable conclusions. The best word to describe the failure to do so is probably "denial," though that seems a bit too narrow. A better way to describe the situation would be to say that the unsuccessful founders had the sort of conservatism that comes from weakness. They traversed idea space as gingerly as a very old person traverses the physical world. UNQUOTE

At the office location, Graham’s partner wrote:
My feeling with the bad groups is that coming into office hours, they've already decided what they're going to do and everything I say is being put through an internal process in their heads, which either desperately tries to munge what I've said into something that conforms with their decision or just outright dismisses it and creates a rationalization for doing so. They may not even be conscious of this process but that's what I think is happening when you say something to bad groups and they have that glazed over look. I don't think it's confusion or lack of understanding per se, it's this internal process at work.

With the good groups, you can tell that everything you say is being looked at with fresh eyes and even if it's dismissed, it's because of some logical reason e.g. "we already tried that" or "from speaking to our users that isn't what they'd like," etc. Those groups never have that glazed over look. UNQUOTE
(from the essay A Word to the Resourceful, (link)

Maybe if folks say I’m a good listener then it’s because my eyes don’t glaze over: You might say I keep a zen “beginner’s mind.”

Back to those popular magazines with slick pages for people to carelessly flip through: I think it logically follows that pop writers won’t put in dense paragraphs that require effort: Nothing about such hard-to-describe things as “zen,” or “filters,” or even “focus.”  

I think if the average person won’t set their ego aside, then the average person won’t be a good listener. A wise man said: The average person can’t run a mile; it’s normal to be able to run four miles. 

Dear reader, let us listen normally, from the inside.

Sean Crawford
In a cabin in the foothills

Sad Sidebar: 
I wonder: Was Paul Bremer, America’s man in Iraq, in charge of America’s war effort “to instil democracy,” any good at listening? Or—? Question: Did President Bush send a closed-eared ‘control freak’ to Iraq? Given Bremer’s gargantuan, egregious mistakes, mistakes that every single Iraqi taxi driver, barber, translator or Iraqi leader would have advised against, crying “Nooo…!” I guess I don’t have to ask.

In the nonfiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City (with a foreword by the director of the Matt Damon movie Green Zone) is the chapter The Plan Unravels.
How sad: 

An Arab council to create a government is listening and sharing and consensus building, and has al-l-l-most enough mutual confidence to announce agreement with Bremer’s plan. Rushing to a vote would only result in a glorified opinion poll. Bremer? Not listening. He uses his power, as leader of the American Occupation, to order them to rush.

Across Iraq, disaster ensues.

The chapter ends quoting Adel Abtel-Mahdi, later the finance minister, saying ruefully, “If Bremer had only given us an extra day, none of this would have happened. We would have had the democratic government that the Americans promised us when they went to war.”  

Our grandparents had a folk ballad:

For the want of a nail, a (horse) shoe is lost,
For the want of a shoe, a rider is lost,
For the want of a rider, a battle is lost,
For the want of a battle, a kingdom is lost,
And all for the want of a nail.

Sing it, sister:

“For the want of an ear, 
a country is lost,
For the want of a country,
A war (on terror) is lost, 
and all for the want of an ear.”

That book, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, is published by Vintage Books, and has won several awards.

Three Footnotes:
~In the second paragraph I mentioned Carl Rogers. I really liked Roger’s brand of therapy, of listening with positive regard and acceptance—just reading Roger’s work was healing for me, back in my youth.

~Women's Liberation (feminism) arose as women met for circles of "consciousness raising" where they would defy society (and what they were "supposed to" think) by listening to each other.

~For Making Conversation, here’s a nice link, where I found that being in a conversation is like being in the world, like looking for a blog topic: Get off, (the couch) Go out, and “Prepare to be amazed.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Now in 2006

Hello Reader,
Got history?

I found a May 2006 issue of a thick monthly magazine, The Atlantic.

At the time, a businessman was the subject of an article (page 42) called The Man With the Golden Phone: “(He) began his career in 1980—either “Morning in America” or the onset of a decade of greed, depending on one’s perspective—and his thoughts soon turned to money making.” 

The article, by Paul Starobin, quotes people explaining what an AMAZING DEAL MAKER he is. The man “who is now eying a run at the presidency” in May of 2006 was… Mark Warner.

Today folks in Venezuela, as arch communist Vladimir Lenin once put it, “are voting with their feet.” They are crossing to the next country to escape their hunger and, something I still can’t get my head around, three-digit inflation. But in 2006 they were big on using their oodles of oil to fund their country’s new exciting improvements. Franklin Foer (page 94) wrote on The Talented Mr. Chavez. 

President Chavez sings a Mexican folk song:
I’m not a gold coin to be liked by everyone
that’s the way I was born
And that’s the way I am
And if they don’t like me
… it doesn’t matter.

I like the article’s call outs (inset large print quotations from the article)
Chavez’s critics dismiss him as something of a buffoon, but he is not just a clown with oil money in his pockets. He is a deliberate strategic thinker capable of tactical brilliance.
Somehow, this sounds like something I’ve heard it before, regarding other leaders.

Chavez’s psychiatrist Edmendo Chirinos told me, “The love of the people is a narcotic to him. He needs it, the same we needs his coffee. (At one point in his presidency, Chavez drank up to thirty demitasses each day.)

Chavez embraced democracy out of practical considerations, not theoretical ones. He came around to the idea of participation in elections for a simple reason: he believed that he could win.”
Such a cliche: Like how communists would “believe” in elections, but then rig elections when it suited them.

There’s one obvious way in which Chavez could truly stagger the United States. Venezuela is an important supplier of oil to America. Chaves appreciates the power this provides him.
Venezuela can’t threaten anybody now. 

I don’t think there was any conspiracy by American Imperialists to bring Venezuela down… But I must admit it amuses me to imagine C.I.A. spies going through all the Venezuelan libraries, burning all the history books, just as Chavez came to power. So he would seem to be “a unique and original person” … uniquely repeating the path of so many leaders before him. 

Too bad, so sad. Historically, it’s hard for a public to have enough common sense to rein in their bewildered leaders; this while, historically, democracy is the only training ground possible for the public to ever acquire such common sense.

Hey, how ‘bout that illegal immigration to the U.S.? A letter to the editor (page 24) talks about a program for rounding up illegals, highly successful, that was scrapped: “But if that could be accomplished by twelve agents in a month or two, imagine what a scaled-up version would look like.” Twelve agents? 

As it happens, during my youth, the Green Berets operated in teams of twelve. I can imagine how a lot of people, just a few decades earlier, had used their Imagination regarding the successes documented by a journalist in the book The Green Berets. I can hear someone saying: “With more of those successes, we could WIN the war in Vietnam.”

This rather ominous voice came to me just before (page 123) reading Exodus subtitled The ominous push and pull of the U.S.-Mexico border by Marc Cooper, who examines a round up of books on the topic. 

“… Last winter … pushed through a landmark bill that mandates the construction of 700 more miles of border walls…” That same bill, if ratified by the senate, was to make being an illegal, or helping an illegal, a felony (it’s currently a civil violation) “… and thereby make thousands of American businesses, housewives, and gardening enthusiasts guilty of high crimes.” 

Let’s relax, dear reader, as I’m sure the bill was never ratified, because Cooper makes it clear that U.S. immigration policy, traditionally, has had trouble being “informed by the realities on the ground.”

Here’s the last half of Cooper’s ending paragraph: “… Mexicans will show as much ingenuity in getting into the United States as Americans would in breaking into British Columbia if the Canadian minimum wage were $70 an hour. “Nothing really changes here, “ Charles Bowden said to me, as a chill night descended on the Tucson desert. “When people ask me what the solution will eventually be here, I say, ‘This is it.’”

Yes, from 2006 to 2018, nothing really changes here.

Hey, how ‘bout those Europeans, with their immigrants and refugees? Today the staggering numbers, sexual crimes, violence, and resulting hot tempers might be distorting our ability to think, but in 2006 Clive Crook was (page 38) calmly writing on The Benefits of Brutality. 

The article is subtitled: “Why America’s immigration outlook—current grumbling notwithstanding—remains much healthier than Europe’s.” 

Crook notes America’s harsher emphasis on work, saying that jobs are a necessary
condition for successful assimilation. “The work requirement increases the dispersed economic benefits; it reduces or eliminates the net fiscal burden; and it lowers cultural barriers. As a result, tempers cool.” 

Europeans, of course, because they are lacking a North American culture of strength through honest immigrants, are now raising, not lowering, cultural barriers by encouraging enclaves. 

I think, dear reader, Europeans are finally learning the hard way, and may even be approaching, maybe next year, a tipping point where, suddenly, most people will acknowledge that self-walled enclaves of immigrants on welfare are a Bad Idea… unless, hypothetically, like in a U.S. white slum, the enclaves could rest on a shared national bedrock, a rock of shared belief in the values of democracy, of assimilation and of the Age of Enlightenment, an age from back around the time of the American Revolution.

Yes, the revolution was a long time ago, but many of the developing countries bordering Europe are still at the stage of Queen Elizabeth the first. Today’s Elizabeth II would be horrified if you murdered someone for yelling, “The queen is a fink!” But not folks today in Arabia and Iran. (Judging by Canadian Muslims stated opinions on a certain book) 

Back in 2006, the average person in Europe had no need to consciously know “What the heck are the cultural values of the Enlightenment?” I still don’t know myself. But now all Europeans, natives and immigrants alike, need to know, if only to reduce their casualties from holy terrorism. True then, true now: We all need to know now—we can’t turn back the clock to 2001, before that day in September.

Today in 2018 Iran is newsworthy, as Trump scandalizes the European Union by screwing with the treaty for preventing the building of an Atomic Bomb. The May 2006 Atlantic has a good-sized article by James Fallows. I will summarize: The U.S. is screwed, and a military strike to prevent the Bomb will not work. 

Fallows, who is listed on my blog’s tag words, also has an article (page 149) called Tinfoil Underwear. Before people of 2018 started belatedly cancelling their facebook accounts, before Google was fined heavily by the European Union court for biasing their search results, Fallows was warning the people of 2006:

“The main privacy concern about IP addresses stems from one business decision: the companies that collect and own the information traceable to them have decided to retain it more or less forever. Why would Google (keep a gazillion warehouses full of data) …? Because it can.”

Fallows talked to Kevin Bankston who told him, “The information about you is gold…Nothing will change that unless there is a law to force them to stop.”

As I write this, the head of Facebook is still refusing to appear before Members of Parliament. Perhaps he is scared of being politely requested to stop.

One final Atlantic article. 

As it happens, certain historical events might seem to be a “one off,” not worth remembering: But no, such events still allow for abstract lessons to be learned—If And Only If—the journalists do their jobs. Which was NOT done by Mark Bowden for the The Atlantic cover story, during that long ago May, about The Desert One Debacle, the failed attempt to “rescue the hostages” in Iran during April of 1980. It’s an article full of human drama, as when the leader of the Delta Force accuses the air force of trying to scuttle the mission, while the machines, grounded and refuelling, are roaring on the Iranian desert floor.

What Bowden neglects to report is that such “combined operations” (combining different branches of the forces) defy hard earned common sense. Earned, that is to say, by blood, agony and dying soldiers caught on barbed wire crying “Momma!” Professionals know the “combined chances for error,” and for accusations too, even from such easy things as a radio frequency, very rapidly mount up—producing too many chances for failure. The golden rule has to be KISS, or “Keep It Simple Soldier.” 

(Note: I seem to recall, for Desert One, pilots skilled at low overland flying being pulled out so that, instead, pilots of a different high flying branch could hurriedly try to learn to fly low in a featureless dessert. At night. Using clumsy night goggles. During a dust storm. And all this practise was at stupidly short notice—didn’t Bowden notice?)

There was only ONE reason for defying the blood-lesson of history: Turf wars in the Pentagon—everyone wanting a share of the glory more than they wanted to sacrifice their ego for their country.

The cover story is lengthy, of course, with many two column pages. Not until the last column, halfway down, is the overall mission commander mentioned, a fellow who, as the landed aircraft roared, was away in Wadi Kena. A Major General. 

What Bowden fails to report is that the mission commander—get this—was not involved in the planning and set up. Back in my dad’s war, and in peace-time Israel even today, the leader of any mission being planned by headquarters is involved right from the start, absorbing information and giving feedback. Of course. How could it be otherwise? And how could Bowden not report how the U.S. armed forced had apparently declined so very, very far since WWII?  I only hope he did better with his book Blackhawk Down

(That’s a book I enjoyed, which included the combined ops bungling of the folks overhead not being on the same frequency of as the one used by an army rescue convoy, a convoy trying to motor to the downed Blackhawk through extremely confusing streets: The folks therefore had to relay their road directions to a third party, directions which would then always arrive at the convoy too late, after a chance to turn had passed)

…And that’s the way it was, in May of 2006.

Sean Crawford
As a history book lies on the desolate sand,
As the answer pages are blowing… flip, flip, flipping… in the wind

~From October 3rd 2018, regarding Venezuela’s creative economy, here (link) is a BBC article, with links to more articles. 

~Regarding how combined operations were truly not easy common sense, but in fact required a serious amount of practise beforehand: 

This truth was discovered for the first time when some folks had the simple-seeming idea of suddenly using the navy to land the army—what could go wrong?— in 1915 at Gallipoli. You may have seen the pessimistic movie, starring a young Mel Gibson. (brief review) I guess Australians are still bitter at the debacle.