"The single biggest problem in communication
is the illusion that it
has taken place."
George Bernard Shaw
We're living in a polarized world.
Just look at the comment sections
on social media platforms and you'll understand exactly what I mean:
Individuals holding opposing views are verbally fighting against one
another to prove themselves right and others wrong.
Here are a few examples:
capitalists vs. socialists
climate alarmists vs. climate deniers
pro-life vs. pro-choice...
Their goal is to hurt, belittle
and win over those belonging to the opposing group.
But the result
is always the same:
nobody wins, and everyone loses...
their time spilling hate over others, only to find themselves
further enraged and misunderstood, which leads to more
Constantly adding fuel to fire, the heated debate
In this article, I'd like to shed some light on the core reasons
behind the polarizing conversations that are all over the place, and
offer some insights on how to effectively communicate without
resorting to hate and the war mentality that so many of us are
The Trap of
Most fights in conversations start when we label ourselves as right
and others as wrong.
In other words, they start from judgment.
When we judge others, we can't see them as they truly are.
more precise, we see them as less than they are.
That's because by
judging them we dehumanize them, and so we lose or considerably
reduce our empathy towards them.
As a result, we find no problem
Yet in reality we only attack a projection of our
The need to prove others wrong usually comes from the egoistic
desire to feel that we're on the right side of things (and hence
"better" than others).
This desire arises from a deep-seated fear:
that we might be on the wrong side of things (and hence "worse" than
In other words, it arises from self-judgment.
To admit the possibility of being wrong would be an anathema to our
insecure ego that feeds on the idea of being right: it would lead to
tremendous emotional distress due to the psychological discord that
would surface in our consciousness.
To avoid that, we use all sorts
of defense mechanisms to cover up for our personal insecurities,
such as trying to win over others in conversations.
But this creates
two serious problems.
Firstly, when our goal in conversations is to prove that we're
right, we exclude any possibility of learning, for learning requires
the admittance that we don't know everything.
It requites paying
attention to new information - even that which is conflicting to our
beliefs - and being available to change our minds when presented
It requires suspending
the ego, and being open to the idea
that others might have more knowledge or insight on a topic than us.
Secondly, we don't really understand the person we're conversing
We're so focused on winning that we don't care to hear
another's perspective and put ourselves in their shoes. Or perhaps
we hear, but we don't really listen. And if we listen, we only
listen in order to find an opportunity to talk back.
fail to truly communicate with them.
Rather, we're exchanging verbal
punches with a ghost of our own creation that entirely misses the
point of communication:
to connect with others.
The Art of
To effectively communicate, we need to learn to truly listen (and
not just hear).
But to listen, we need to be willing to understand
those we're conversing with. And to understand them, it is important
let go of our judgmental attitude towards them, for judgementality blocks our empathy - that is, our capacity to "feel
When we listen,
we can see where others are coming from.
We can see
that they have their reasons for believing and saying what they do.
We can see that when they hold opinions that are arguably wrong,
that doesn't mean that they themselves are wrong.
And we can also
see that, when they disagree with us, that doesn't mean they're our
enemies - it just means that they have a different way of thinking
When we listen,
we don't want to harm anyone.
We understand that
those who verbally fight against us are suffering from their own
psychological discord, and so we respond with compassion instead of
fighting them back.
We provide them with loving space in order to
nourish their deep need for self-acceptance, which sometimes is
enough to change their attitude towards us.
But even if their
attitude doesn't change, and they continue their fight, we simply
disengage, careful not to add fuel to the fire of hatred and rage.
To listen, we also need to let go of the idea that we're always
We need to understand that no one is perfect or knows
Learning is an ongoing journey, and part of that journey are the
people we interact with.
Everyone we meet can teach us important
lessons, if we stop and pay attention to them. Even those we
disagree with know some things that we don't.
Once we realize that,
and are willing to expand our knowledge and understanding, we'll
stop getting defensive when conversing with others.
On the contrary,
we'll start listening closely to what they have to say, and be open
to question our beliefs when provided with new information that
doesn't fit in with them.
The Purpose of
As I mentioned earlier, communication has one purpose:
to connect us
By exchanging our feelings, thoughts and perspective,
communication allows us to know each other better; hence it brings
us closer to each other.
And when communication brings us further
apart, that's a clear sign it has failed to take place.
Once we see that the goal of communication is connection, we'll no
longer fight with others. Of course, that doesn't mean that no
disagreement or conflict will ever arise from our conversations.
some extent both are inevitable, yet not necessarily bad.
they can be very beneficial:
disagreements can help us to reconsider
our way of thinking and enrich our knowledge, and conflicts can help
our relationships become healthier and more resilient.
the case only if they're dealt with the right way - that is, with
compassion, a genuine desire for understanding and the intention to
heal our inner psychological discord from which our outer conflicts
Communication can be a bridge between ourselves and others.
used the wrong way, it can create thick walls between our hearts.
Every word we utter has the power to connect or separate us, to
create the conditions for conflict or the conditions for peace, to
nourish our psyche or deprive us of what we need the most: intimacy,
So let's use our words wisely, and harness their
power for the benefit of ourselves and those we converse with.