About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.


I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

14 June 2009

I Never Met a Man I Didn't Like

In the November 6, 1926 edition of the Saturday Evening Post, the American humorist Will Rogers said this about the notorious Russian revolutionary and Marxist theorist Leon Trotsky:
"I bet you if I had met him and had a chat with him, I would have found him a very interesting and human fellow, for I never yet met a man that I didn't like."
This is one of his most famous quotes ... or at least part of it is:
" ... I never yet met a man that I didn't like."
If you've seen or heard only these words, you will probably beg to differ with Mr. Rogers, because I'm sure you've met at least a few people you didn't like.

On the other hand, if you consider the whole of what he said, you quickly see that he threw in a qualifier:
" ... if I had met him and had a chat with him ..."
And, on that basis, I would venture to say you are more likely to agree with him.

I would go a little further, though. In my way of thinking, the chat has to be more involved than simply talking about the weather, what we do at work, hobbies, etc. I might decide that someone is very interesting or not very interesting by conversing at that level - and I think this is where most conversations begin and end - but I certainly won't get to human. To get to know another person as a real, honest-to-goodness human being, I find that I need to listen to his or her story. And, I can truly say that there is not a single person whose story I've heard that I don't like.

Are you with me? Have you found that if you take the time to really get to know another person you almost always find something to like? And, when you find something to like, don't you find your relationship with that person to be much more meaningful? And, isn't there more understanding and trust? And, don't you communicate more freely? I see you nodding your head in agreement. I can almost hear you saying "I get it. I get it."

But, wait! This is an idea that is rather easy to get, but putting it into practice is an entirely different matter. There are two reasons for this. Well, maybe there are more, but who's counting?

First, it takes time to sit down and listen to another person's story and to share yours. And, we're all so very busy today.

Second, busy or not, we are prone to making like or no like decisions about others almost immediately upon meeting them, and from that point on see only the evidence that supports our original decision.

There is another way forward, though. We can look at another person as a book to be read - perhaps in more than one sitting - and hold off on a like or no like decision until we see how the story ends. Author Philip Roth elaborates:
"The novelist teaches the reader to comprehend the world as a question. There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude. In a world built on sacrosanct certainties, the novel is dead. ... In any case, it seems to me that all over the world people nowadays prefer to judge rather than to understand, to answer rather than ask, so that the voice of the novel can hardly be heard over the noisy foolishness of human certainties."
I decided to put this theory to a test last weekend. You might try it as well.

To begin, I selected a person I had judged harshly - Reverend Jeremiah Wright. I had seen a 30-second video clip of him shouting "God damn America" and decided I didn't like him. The next step was to have him tell me his story so I could find out whether hearing it would cause me to change my mind about him. Here I had to improvise: I knew I couldn't get hold of him to chat, but I knew that Bill Moyers had and that their conversation was aired on PBS. I found a video recording of the event in the PBS archives, and sat down to watch.

I watched the whole thing, and I changed my mind about Reverend Wright in a couple of ways, at the very least. First, once I heard his entire story, I concluded that he is "a very interesting and human fellow," to quote Will Rogers. Second, after hearing his comments about America in their entire context, I realized he was speaking as a preacher and not as a politician: he was referring to a place in the Old Testament that said God would condemn nations that killed the innocent and was warning us that God would also "damn America" if we did the same.

In addition to reinforcing a notion I already had - it's important to take the time to get to know people before judging them - I learned there's a big difference between thinking something is true and knowing it's true because you've experienced it for yourself.

Conversation: No suggestions.

Afterwords:
"If you are to judge a man, you must know his secret thoughts, sorrows, and feelings; to know merely the outward events of a man’s life would only serve to make a chronological table — a fool’s notion of history." - HonorĂ© de Balzac
"Sixty years ago, you could simply take your children out into the barn; even if you lived in the cities, there were working men all around you. Chances are your son would learn to use his body. But more and more now the children are going to the Internet ... and the danger is that it will simply cause deeper isolation among many young males than they already have. It is a lie to say that there is communication going on. It is just a form of chatter. True communication takes place when two people are standing close to each other -- maybe a foot away -- so that you can feel when the other person is lying, through his body." - Robert Bly

1 comment:

REM said...

This is what Will meant when he said,
"I never met a man I didn't like."

Just about everyone thinks he was such
an easy going guy that he would like every
man he'd ever met.

WRONG!!!

Will Rogers was sharp, and far more shrewd
than most want to believe. Mr. Rogers
was ethical and moral and often commented on
societal issues, especially when he saw things
he knew were wrong. Imagine him meeting
some of the worst men you can imagine.
Would he like them? Of course not. That's
where this famous quote is always misunderstood.
If you interpret what a "man" is to Rogers you
will then understand the words he spoke.
A "man" to Rogers was one of good character
and decent morals. IF HE MET SOMEONE OF POOR
CHARACTER OR OBVIOUSLY WITHOUT MORALS THEN
(READY FOR THIS?) THEY DON'T MEET HIS DEFINITION OF
A "MAN". OK, LET ME SPELL IT OUT FOR YOU, IF WILL
ROGERS DIDN'T LIKE YOU, YOU WEREN'T A REAL MAN.

Get it? Think of the reprimand said to someone
who is not taking responsibility when they should, "Man up."

I hope this clears up a decades old misconception.