Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Rules of Engagement

This is a re-post from  my new friend, Bud at Dead-Logic.com 

I think it's brilliant and well thought out advice for all. Feel free to pass it around (just leave a link back giving credit to Dead-logic) there are a lot of people out there who could benefit from a few simple rules, including myself!

Rules of Engagement

I have certain "rules of engagement" I do my best to follow when I am having a conversation, particularly with people who believe something I don't. Keep in mind these are my own personal guidelines, and while I think they are good guidelines, I offer them here only as a suggestion:
1. "Bracket" your judgment. In other words, suspend making judgments about another person's beliefs until you understand it completely.

2. Work hard to understand other people's beliefs completely before offering any criticism.

3. Be able to say their beliefs back to them in their own words. Then you will know you have a complete understanding of their perspective. Furthermore, they will see that you respect them because you've taken the time to learn about them and what they think.

4. Learn the questions they are asking. People are different. The concerns you have, and the issues you feel are important will not always be the same as the concerns others have and the issues others feel are important. We must work to understand other people in order to have a meaningful and productive dialogue with them.

5. Ask yourself those questions they are asking. Everyone exists in a particular context, which means one person's concerns may differ from another's. Addressing such questions can help you see "through their eyes" and strip away the erroneous preconceived notions you might have about them.

6. Be suspicious of labels. Any label a person decides to give herself can cause as much confusion as clarity. Labels, such as "Christian," "atheist," "conservative," "liberal," et al., are meant to help people understand what the person believes, but these labels come with baggage that might not necessarily apply to the individual who has donned the label. Whenever we hear one of these labels, each of us get a different image in our minds of what that label represents, which may or may not represent the person with whom we are speaking. Regardless of what label a person uses, the only way to really understand what she believes is to talk to the person.

7. Question their beliefs. The first six rules of engagement are meant to help a person avoid attacking straw men. At this point critical thinking should be applied to the person's beliefs, swinging the axe of radical criticism through the forest of ideas, to see which will remain standing and which will fall to the force of reason.

8. Let them question your beliefs. This is important. Trust is earned when you are open with them and you make yourself vulnerable by exposing your beliefs for criticism. Also, never forget that you could be wrong, and thinking through your beliefs by having them challenged is both healthy and beneficial.

9. Find common ground. In other words, find areas where you and the other person(s) agree, and build from those points of commonality. Also, when you find common ground, you will see the points of disagreement more distinctly, and thus you will be able to address those concerns more directly.
These rules of engagement are meant to encourage people to become better listeners. As I have said before, to listen is to interpret what is being said; to analyze and critique the material; to interact with the what is being said as one allows the ideas and arguments to ruminate in her head; to allow these ideas to clash with the ideas and arguments to which the listener currently adheres; to put oneself inside the speaker's frame of reference to see the world the way the speaker sees the world and comprehend her paradigm. In short, to listen is to think. Critical thinking implies empathic listening. How is discussion or debate even possible unless both parties understand that about which they are actually in disagreement?

Empathic listening is listening with intent to project oneself into the other person's context (sometimes this is called "projective listening"). The empathic listener tries to "put himself in the speaker’s shoes." This does not mean the listener must agree with what is being said; it means the listener works to place herself within the speaker's frame of reference, so that she may understand the speaker's feelings, her (implicit) reasons for believing what she believes, what led the speaker to adopt her ideas and conclusions, how her culture and background affects the way she perceives the world, how she uses language, et cetera. Empathic listening is the attempt to break out of one's own thought paradigm and enter into another's.

So shut up and listen.


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