A lot to be said for talking less and listening more

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is right to ask for more respectful debates. Photo: Damien Storan


A sad but increasingly obvious “post truth” trend ordains that most people prefer to talk rather than listen. Discourse, if it is tolerated at all, has to be conducted at dangerously high decibel levels. You risk being either deafened or drowned out in the infernal babel.

The scenes so decried in the Dáil during the week were an example of how making a lot of noise and drawing attention to oneself are more important than the message you are attempting to get across.

The louder and more forceful you are, the more likely you are to be lauded as the winner of the argument.

But somewhere in the contest to triumph and out-trumpet your opponent, any possibility of understanding is lost.

Those who might have something valuable to say are intimidated by the din.

In the fiery heat of the moment, the mild voice of reason stands little chance of being communicated, let alone comprehended.

With everybody competing so aggressively to be heard, it seems there is less room for anybody to be understood.

Politicians can be particularly culpable, but it is a problem across all public platforms, taking a toxic toll on our sense of decency and basic humanity.

As Stephen Covey put it in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

So it was heartening to hear Leo Varadkar calling for a more respectful treatment of issues surrounding transgender rights.

“I think we do need to talk about it, but let’s do it in a way that understands we are talking about individuals, we are talking about families,” the Taoiseach said. “Let’s listen to each other and let’s try to avoid anything that is disrespectful.”

Any discussion on human relations can only be enhanced by a degree of empathy and kindness.

A slight change in perspective can make so much room for tolerance and acceptance.

As has been noted, the eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.

A greater degree of openness can be a threat to no one. It is impossible to be right all the time in an imperfect world.

As the Indian nationalist and civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err.

“It passes my comprehension how human beings, be they ever so experienced and able, can delight in depriving other human beings of that precious right.”

Experience has shown that the more ardent and strident we are in our views, the more reason we have to question our certitude.

It is the many strands of colour in a tapestry that give it its vitality and vibrancy.

And it is only in the listening to all of our various stories and accents that we can move from a place of exclusion to inclusion.

That place is as close or as distant as we wish to make it.