Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Lesson in Listening

Right now I'm reading Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers: The Story of Success. It studies the best and brightest folks and attempts to answer the question - what makes them different? Malcom proposes in addition to raw natural talent and individual ability there is an entire ecosystem of culture, backstory and fortuitous opportunity that helps bring about success. I'm halfway through the book and recommend it to anyone interested in learning about success.

In one chapter Malcom studies Korean Air and an unfortunate number of plane crashes the company experienced, over seventeen times more than any American airline. He concludes that Korean culture accounted for this huge discrepancy. Basically Koreans are taught to respect authority without question and this carried over into the cockpit. Flight crews were reluctant to call out mistakes to the captain for fear of being disrespectful. In other cultures - especially American culture - this fear does not exist. Malcom names this distinction a "receiver-oriented" culture versus a "speaker oriented" culture. It is in this distinction God spoke something to me.

In a speaker-oriented culture the burden of communication is on the speaker. If something is misunderstood  it is the fault of the speaker not communicating clearly. The burden of conveying an idea rests on the shoulders of the speaker. This leads to terse and forceful communication, not out of disrespect but for the sake of clarity. This is the perfect form of communication in the cockpit of an airplane. Lives are at stake and there's a lot going on. There is no room for subtlety or touchy-feely emotions. Make your point clearly and directly. America. Boom.

In a receiver-oriented culture the burden of communication is on the receiver, not the speaker. There is a kind of dance involved where the listener has to read between lines, has to understand and intuit what the speaker is saying. Malcom writes:
There is something beautiful in the subtlety of that exchange, in the attention that each party must pay to the motivations and desires of the other... But [it] works only when the listener is capable of paying close attention, and it works only if the two parties in a conversation have the luxury of time, in order to unwind each other's meanings.
Did you catch the bit about it working only when the listener is capable of paying close attention? I really think this how God prefers to speak to us. He wants intimate communication with us. He wants us to pay attention to the subtlety of who He is. He wants to share time with us in stillness and silence. Listen to what the psalmist writes:
Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer... when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. --Psalm 4:1,4 
Are you feeling the pressure of life all around you? Do you feel like you're flying blind through a storm, the instruments are out and the control tower isn't providing any help? That's the time to take a page from the Koreans and pay attention to the subtle communication of your heavenly Abba. You may think you don't have the luxury of time, but in the light of eternity we all have plenty of time to unwind each other's meaning.

It's an entirely different kind of flying... all together.

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