Less talk, more listening: a New Year’s message from Dr. Walt Menninger

by Walt Menninger, MD on January 4, 2011 · 1 comment

in holidays

Each year, along with my greetings of the season to friends and associates, I share a summary of significant events occurring in my life that year. And I conclude with some general thoughts about the state of the world. My closing thought this year prompted quite a few responses. My words:

Divisive political rhetoric and shrill negative commentary continue. Many people, preoccupied with real and imagined threats, manifest the attitude: “Don’t confuse me with the facts; my mind’s made up!” As I urged last year, let us work to open minds, reject simplistic polarization, engage in a more tempered discussion of the world around us, focus on constructive options in life and recognize that most people want to be good and do well.

One friend responded, “I wish that your closing paragraph were blanketed on every Op Ed page all across America!!!” And one of my children’s former teachers wrote:

You are certainly a kind man who looks at the world with views of working together to find common ground in solving problems. Who is listening? It seems there is less of everything we wish for: Peace and Love, but there’s always Hope and our Faith on which to rely. May they eventually bring us closer to the Peace and Love we so desire. You have done much in support of your beliefs and your words inspire me to do more in my own small way.

Right vs. wrong

My message reflected a continued concern about the profound split that seems to be evident in our country. A “right” way and a “wrong” way are reflected in the media on most every issue, with a remarkable difference as to which is the “right” and the “wrong” way. It depends on who’s expressing the opinion! All too often, opinions with a less than substantial basis on verified information are presented as “fact.” And those who have a differing opinion are demonized and devalued.

Public officials seeking political acceptance will say what they think people want to hear, rather than the way things really are. More than 30 years ago, I gave a speech entitled: “Tell it like it is! The H… you say!” Because most people don’t really want to hear it like it is. They want to hear it like they want it to be! Underlying this wish is a host of insecurities and deep-seated prejudices that unconsciously bias how we perceive the world and how we respond to what we are experiencing. If we are hurting and distracted, it is hard to tune into complicated explanations.

But our world is complicated, and there are few if any simplistic solutions. We do have some basic needs in common, as articulated in Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs: (1) basic physiological needs; (2) safety; (3) love, affection and belonging; (4) esteem; and (5) self-actualization. If we are threatened in our capacity to achieve our more basic needs, it is hard to focus on the higher levels of achievement. And it is easy to look for scapegoats on whom we can blame our, and the world’s, shortcomings.

What we need

So what’s to be done? We all need to respect disagreement and examine its value. We should examine differences, and rather than close our minds and focus on the negative, we should search for points of commonality that can bring us together. We must find ways to assuage so much hate and enhance our capacity to respect one another. We should search for ways to make our lives and our world better. We have to do less talking and more listening.

And keep in mind the “Serenity Prayer:”  God, please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

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Jennifer M. Jackson, RN January 8, 2011 at 9:57 am

I know that I need to engage in more listening and less talking. God gave me two ears and one mouth for a reason! And that is exactly what I will be working on in this new year. As a nurse, it is tempting to “fill in” those (sometimes awkward) quiet moments with our patients. But in those moments, our patients sometimes express their thoughts and feelings which we might otherwise miss.

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