I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink’. For those of you who haven’t read it, take the time and look through it. There is something he calls ‘thin-slicing’—how to read people in the first few moments of meeting them. It really got me thinking about conversations and debates. People can be so involved in what they are saying that they fail to pick up on little cues to what the other person is thinking. If you can read the other person, it’s easier to shape your argument in a way that they might end up seeing your point of view. Now in the past few days I chatted about different things to a varied bunch of people: a Professor at Cambridge, a Fellow (and historian) at Cambridge, an Indian politician, a movie star, a successful lawyer and as usual, my friends. Now many of the themes were the same- Middle East crisis, Bombay blasts, Muslims in India, religion, and so on. Now everything is a matter of opinion. Coming home from Cambridge my brother and I were amazed at how well Professor Hoskins could hold a conversation. We joked about he was more of a Master of Conversation than a Master of Science! But then the next day we got embroiled in a crazy political conversation which soon dissolved into a screaming match. But this is what I don’t understand. Unless you only want to state your opinions louder than everyone else, one would assume that you would want to actually *gasp* HAVE A CONVERSATION! But it’s getting tough now. I have started respecting people who actually listen to others- in hopes of absorbing a new point of view- instead of listening impatiently waiting for their chance to start speaking again. [Admittedly I am guilty of doing the same, but that’s only when I have a reaaaallly interesting point I’m dying to make!] What is the point of trying to be smart by entering into an ‘intellectually stimulating’ conversation when you are going to intellectually dishonest about it and refuse to listen to anyone else?
‘Blink’ is about more than just the art of face-reading; it allows you to understand what instinctive reactions are all about. We’ve all had reactions in an instinct—but why do we? Why are we right some of the time, and wrong at the other times? Now take for instance a conversation on Sonia Gandhi- and what right she has to become PM of India. I know this topic leads to an explosion every single time because everyone has very different- but definite opinions about the topic. And when you are having a passionate debate at times- and this is something everyone is familiar with- you end up harassing each other on points that have nothing to do with the topic in hand! But even more interesting to me is the question- especially with my friends- if you and I have lived in the same circles, studied in the same schools, and so on, how do we end up with such dramatically different ways of seeing the world? And such different value systems?!
My friend’s father was just telling me that he appreciated the way I handled myself in a recent heated debate we had about politics. He said he may not have agreed with all of what I was saying but I was able to hold a debate in a really good way. I didn’t step on any toes. Its funny- because little did he know that this is exactly what my post has been about.
So my question is, in all this talking, why do we stop listening? I have spent countless hours arguing with some people for the sake of it- and none of us have gained much from the other. But on the other hand, some conversations are pivotal to my life. I’ve learnt so much. I think this is why I loved History as a subject so much. It taught me more about the world, and every time I walked out of class, I felt I’d become smarter. So I guess it’s crucial to learn- as it is to make allowances for the fact that different views DO exist in the world and instead of rejecting them outright, perhaps understanding where they come from will help you see it better.
How can someone’s entire view point and understanding of the world be dismissed by someone else? Ugh, this is the age of democracy people. TALK.