The Cure for Internet Venom: Let's Listen to Each Other


Almost always, because we listen, it changes the lives of those we listen to. It delivers a message that the person matters to us, Helms says. (Photo: Friesehamburg / Wikimedia Commons)

I was captivated by the sounds around me on a recent early morning walk in the woods.

The frost-covered rye grass crunched beneath my feet. The wind swished through the loblolly pines. The crows cawed to each other in a language only they understood.

Paying attention to all of these sounds reminded me that we would understand each other if we spent more time listening to one another, trying to see and understand the world through each other's perspective.

In the movie, "The Social Network," founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is portrayed as brilliant and arrogant. While at Harvard, he and some friends launched what is now the world's most used social network.

Since his Harvard days, Zuckerberg sees the world much differently. The arrogance of his former years is giving way to a more humble and open-minded approach.

He sees the enormous good that his company and wealth can have in the world. He and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have pledged to give away 99 percent of their wealth to philanthropic causes.

This year Zuckerberg will complete a tour of all 50 states. He is meeting with people in small towns and universities, offices and churches.

He is meeting with teachers and scientists and taking suggestions from people along the way about where he should go and with whom he should meet.

Zuckerberg realizes that he has a special job to do, which is bringing people together during a time when we have difficulty listening to one another.

While technology has helped bring us together on many formats, Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page that it has also contributed to "a greater sense of division than I have felt in my lifetime. We need to find a way to change the game so it works for everyone."

This is the reason he has embarked on his listening tour. He wants to hear more voices that will help him make the most positive impact on the world.

This desire to listen gives hope that future technology will be a better tool for bringing us closer and not a wedge to divide us.

As an example of a deeper-than-normal Facebook post, an old friend recently reflected on a football clinic that he attended two years ago that was led by a coach in his late 20s.

My friend, who is a high school football coach, wrote, "I had been coaching longer than the presenter had been alive. I sat, I listened, I learned. We even implemented some of his ideas into our offense that has set records over the past two seasons. That young coach went on to be the offensive coordinator at Valdosta High School this past season as they won the Georgia 6A state title."

What an example of letting go of pride and learning from someone else by listening.

Placing himself as a learner in the presence of someone half his age involved no technology, just some humility, and the possibility that he might learn something, which he did.

Part of what Zuckerberg may discover is that there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction with people. It requires that we leave our homes and meet people face to face.

Partly because of technology, we have lost the art of real face-to-face communication.

There is no substitute for knowing that someone really cares what you have to say and really wants to listen to you say it, even if the person has an opposing view.

Sometimes, despite differences in age, ethnicity, religion, economics and other barriers, because we listen, we learn something from each other that enriches and changes our lives.

Almost always, because we listen, it changes the lives of those we listen to. It delivers a message that the person matters to us.

That's part of the power of Zuckerberg's listening tour - that a billionaire will take the time to go to a small town, church, school or university and listen to working people's ideas. It communicates that he doesn't have all the answers.

Perhaps Facebook will be a stronger social network in the future because it will reflect a broader spectrum of ideas.

Meanwhile, don't forget the power you have and the importance you have in listening to others.

Someone today will need your undivided attention. Someone will need you to really listen and really care about his or her opinion, about what happened in his or her day.

Imagine someone posting something on Facebook and not getting a single "Like" or comment. That's the way a lot of people feel as they move through the day or week - that no one notices or cares.

If we live by the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," we need to stop, notice those around us and listen to their lives.

Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Finding Our Way, and is used with permission.

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Tags: Humility, Listening, Michael Helms, Pride, Relationships, Social Media


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