Thursday, January 6, 2011

Listening Famine

I was reading in the paper this morning a story on the report issued by the presidential panel named to study the BP oil spill. They have concluded that the companies involved took a series of hazardous and time savings steps without consideration of the risks involved. They also surfaced a picture of company officials who failed to consult with one another on critical decisions.

Gillian Tett of The Financial Times writes in her 2009 book, Fools Gold, that our “entire financial system went wrong as a result of flawed incentives within banks and investment funds, as well as the rating agencies; warped regulatory structures; and a lack of oversight.” It turns out that the current global financial crisis is a story about people we thought were the smartest players in the industry. Their decisions turned out to be “remarkably na├»ve, reckless or, in some cases, downright stupid”, I quote Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times who reviewed Ms Tett’s book.

There appears to be a famine in our world. It is pervasive and it is having tragic and far reaching consequences. We need to name this famine and address it. It is a famine of listening.

This shouldn’t surprise us.

It’s not like the water that we seek in the big picture is flowing well close to home. If we aren’t listening or being listened to in our families, in our places of employment, in our churches, or in our neighborhoods, why do we think the large entities are better than we are?

When was the last time at home we asked each other about our hopes and dreams for the new year? Have we asked what are the challenges we are each facing in our unique journeys or in our journey of living together?

When were the voices of students, teachers or education researchers included in our education reform efforts?

How often does the top executive ask administrative assistants, who interface with large segments of customers and team members, how could we improve our product or our operations?

Listening is the path to improve relationships, inform decisions and effectively problem solve. If we are going to survive as a culture we need this skill, this orientation, just as badly as we need water in a rain drought. The good news about this famine is that we can begin to generate the very resource we need. In this case, we can be the change we want to see in the world as Mahatma Gandhi so wisely said. The change we need desperately is our willingness and ability to listen to each other.