I found another interesting story to share from the book, ” Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship With A Remarkable Man.” I am really enjoying this book. It is not about the characters Leonard Nimoy portrayed throughout his career, it’s about him. He was and is such a fascinating person.
In this particular story (taken from pages 42-43), Leonard had taken a position as a cab driver to help make ends meet between acting jobs. He had an interesting passenger one night, John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was in town for a political dinner where Adlai Stevenson was speaking, in part hoping to swing the Democratic party’s nomination again. When Kennedy learned that Leonard was from Boston, he had lots of questions for him. Kennedy wanted to know about the West End, about Leonard’s parents’ immigration, and about his acting career. Leonard told him it was tough, then had a question for Kennedy about Stevenson’s chances of getting the nomination for a second time. Rather than answering, Kennedy leaned forward and said, “You talk to a lot of people. What do you think?”
Kennedy, by asking Leonard that question, “…made me feel much more worthwhile–more meaningful and important to myself; that a man in his position would ask me for my opinion. He obviously knew much more than I did, but he wasn’t interested in impressing me with his knowledge…That was one of the most important lessons I ever learned, and often I found myself doing exactly what he did. If somebody asks me a question, I may have an answer, but often I’ll say, ‘But what do you think?’ I learn a lot more that way than simply by answering the question myself.” Leonard became “…a formidable listener. He listened actively, which most people don’t do.”
A few days ago I shared a blog post on current problems in communication that we are experiencing now. This story shows a wonderful example of how to improve the conversations we have with one another, how to improve communication. And it all starts by listening. “If somebody asks me a question, I may have an answer….” Leonard decided not to immediately jump in with his answer, but instead to ask a simple question, “..what do you think?” Then he listened. He actively listened. I’m impressed that he is described as a formidable listener. A lot of people are formidable with their opinion, with their words. Actively jumping in and immediately telling you what and how you should think. There is so much more power in holding back and listening, something we rarely see anymore.
Learning to listen is not as simple as it sounds. It would take both of us, you and I, slowing down to consider the other person’s words. Instead of being the know-it-all, maybe….just maybe….if we can take the time to listen to each other, to ask a question without the motive of telling the person their answer or opinion is wrong, maybe we can start to communicate in such a way that we can open up the conversation again to be deeper and more meaningful instead of immediately shutting it down.
If you think someone’s opinion is wrong, do you want to help change
their opinion or do you want to just try to shut them up? How will things change if we continue to talk to one another this way? Yes, you may take a person’s voice away from them for the moment, shut them down or make them feel ashamed that they don’t think like you. I’ve never seen shame change someone for the better. Really, those of you that might use this tactic online and in social media, have you ever seen shame be a motivator that brings any good? Maybe you shut the person up, but instead of winning the argument you lost the conversation. It is true I don’t often share my personal opinion anywhere now because of these problems. I miss conversations.
I really hope we can learn to communicate with one another again. We stand to loose a lot if we don’t. We already don’t think individuals deserve rights, we want to legislate behavior and point fingers at injustice. But it’s very hard for any one to really have a civil conversation anymore. That’s sad to me. I would rather ask what is your opinion, and give you the chance to tell me. Then if you would give me the chance to gently share my opinion, maybe we could find the common elements to agree on, and either agree to disagree with the rest or help bring one another to a different insight or conclusion. Is that even possible anymore?