Seek to understand and then be understood


It is surprisingly easy to read, repeat, speak and even pass an exam on complex topics and then totally be unmindful of it. We all do that all the time. Any doubts?

The example that comes to my mind is a scene from a humorous movie where the wimpy heroes have the mandate to find a stolen golden crown. They pass by the crown in the road as it literally rolls in in front of them, but they only run away from its path! The audience would always have a laugh. Little do they realize that most of us do the same thing in real life.

Steven R. Covey’s book Seven Habits of Highly Successful People states my title as one of them. I have read it, memorized it, talked about it, but for years little did I realize that it is about me making a change. Seek to understand what we see and then make sense of it before ever opening the mouth to speak about it is a conscious decision many of us have to make, with me at the top of the list.

Speaking about this book, a very interesting anecdote comes to mind. A very devout Salafi muslim professor, who thinks his religious way is the only way for the world started reading this book. He was so thrilled that he told me that if he had ever got this book in his early youth, life would have been different for him. I don’t think he ever meant leaving is fundamentalist world view and embrace a more inclusive world view. Far from it. He meant that he would have been a more successful person in terms of money and fame.

Come to think about it, it is hard to miss Covey’s very important points in the beginning. Everyone will be fascinated by a picture of a lady there, which he calls as either an old lady or a young lady, depending on how you look at it. Most people see only one perspective, not both. I have tested it on many people and verified this fact for myself. Seeing different perspectives of a question requires one to move the frame of reference, which is very difficult without conscious effort. Different perspectives just do not apply to the professor, there is just one correct perspective!

Another thing that goes as background material in the book in the first few pages is about, what Covey calls as increasing the circle of one’s influence. My salafi friend has the world view that everything happens to him, people are out to get him and his religion, that the only course open to him is to protest in all possible ways, etc. He would never even think that he, not others, is the only author of his own future.

So much for the difference between the theory and its practice. The theory may be so very simple and clear, but people practice the opposite of it, while also happily reciting from the theoretical text.


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