On Listening

“We hear what we want to hear.” So how do we respond to things that we don’t want to hear? Is it natural to protect ourselves from challenges to our basic beliefs just like we would protect ourselves from physical dangers?

When you hear or read something that challenges your own belief system do you stop listening or reading and start developing your own counter-argument? Or do you just bail out and go do something else? Do you listen more for what you disagree with than for what you might agree with?

I yell at the political jerks on TV and my wife tells me to shut up and listen. (She does it much more politely.) Once-in-a-while I discover that one of these jerks does make some sense if I bother to listen. I react the same way to the editorial page and I am sometimes surprised that my favorite-to-hate pundits actually make a little bit of sense if I just bother to read them.

Why Do We Like Listening To Stories?

Great orators, storytellers and salespeople grab us with their first few lines. Then we buy into the rest of their presentation as long as they don’t move too fast and they carefully present material in sequence to keep us listeners constantly involved.

Stories and fiction usually don’t threaten our own basic beliefs like “hard” facts and personal opinions do. Most stories are about someone other than the storyteller, so the storyteller is not responsible for any errors or things that threaten or upset us.

Is this why fiction is more popular than non-fiction? Do we question the motives of the fiction writer who only wants to entertain us and sell books? Do most non-fiction writers have an agenda trying to convert us to their own convictions and do we turn off if we have any doubts about what the “experts” have to say?

I used to read a lot of science fiction. Many SF writers are also accomplished scientists and philosophers. They create whole new worlds for our imagination and populate them with original characters, issues and problems to solve. Are they are coaxing us into some serious thinking without challenging what we already believe?



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