Monday, November 4, 2013

Mutual Understanding Indispensable to Communication

The editor of the Peace Weekly recently discussed the kind of requests and complaints the paper routinely receives. They can usually be divided, he says, into two types: Asking for information would be one type; the other type (nine out of ten) would be protests, most often telling you to cancel their subscription.  When he asks the reason, the answer they give is they do not like the editorial direction of the newspaper.  Why do the priests and religious have to get involved in politics, upsetting the Christians? is often a complaint he hears, as well as the complaint that the good  works of the priests and religious are not covered by the paper.

Recently, a group expressing the opinion of the public on the energy policy of the country has resulted in changing the policy of the previous government in two significant areas: Reducing the dependence on nuclear energy, from 41 percent to 22-29 percent; secondly, changing the emphasis from the supply side of energy production to  reducing the demand for  energy. But even if we reduce the use of nuclear energy to only 20 percent, the increase in the need for energy means that more nuclear power plants have to be built, which, as this group points out, increases the dangers inherent in having more nuclear power plants. The other side sees that dependence on liquid natural gas,  which is more expensive, will require an increase in the cost of electricity. The Peace Weekly has tried to see the position of both sides fairly. 

The editor expresses frustration in the inability of both sides to budge an inch from their positions, an indication, he feels, of the lack of communication in our society. What is the reason for this inability to communicate? he asks. The desire to resolve the differences is missing, he answers. The parties are concerned only with their own understanding of the situation. Another reason, he says, is a lack of trust in the newspaper. People who want to cancel their subscription are not interested in hearing both sides of the controversy, perhaps doubting the objectivity of the newspaper. The same lack of trust may also be a factor for those who disagree with the findings of the committee to study the problem of energy.

If we want a society that can communicate with each other, what is needed, the editor says, is a culture that respects the other, and is open to listening, negotiating, and compromising with those who have different opinions. Achieving such a culture, where mutual understanding is the goal of everyone, requires effort on the part of everyone. 

He ends his remarks by mentioning a problem he experienced that morning on the way to work. He usually takes public transportation but that morning he wanted to get to the office early and decided to drive his car. Without much traffic at that time of day, he thought he'd be at work in 30 minutes. But suddenly the traffic stopped because of construction along the way, and he had to accept that he would not get to work early as he had planned. Even though the wait was not much, he admitted he was not able to take the traffic snarl in stride, which he saw as a lack of concern and respect for the circumstances which made such a delay inevitable.

Problems of this type not infrequently come from our lack of mastery over ourselves and our emotions, and, put simply, reveal our lack of wisdom. There are also issues which do not fall into this category, where compromise is not possible. But that does not mean we don't listen to, show respect and concern for, those we disagree with.

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