On Thursday afternoons, I lead a heavily undersubscribed philosophy discussion group called Tea, Cake and Ideas. This week, we considered the question of perfectibility. We started with the story of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods. Prometheus believed that fire would improve humanity and help it to flourish. This led us to ask the question of what would we want to give and/or remove from humanity to make it better? As you can imagine, such a broad question led to a pretty wide ranging conversation. As the chair of the discussion, I didn’t have the opportunity to add my own idea, so here it is.
I would like to add listening and remove shouting. It seems that we are so keen to be outraged or offended by the ideas of others that we stop listening very quickly and move straight to venting. This runs counter to an idea that is currently doing the rounds in the popular press, the Korean concept of nunchi, the art of listening. Leading exponents of this skill are able to assess the whole situation, the context, the stakeholders, those who are contributing positively, those who are rolling their eyes and where everyone is coming from.
I know that I would be a better leader if I was better at listening. I am confident that political debate would be more effective if there was more listening. I am certain that pupils will learn more if they are able to express ideas without fear of being shouted down. This lies at the heart of our Thursday afternoon discussion group.
My DIY knowledge is woeful but I do know one rule: measure twice, cut once. We would do less damage if we listened twice, spoke once. Or in the words of James “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19). If I was Prometheus and I was looking to steal something to improve humanity, I would be stealing listening. Would it be worth the 30,000 years of having my liver pecked out by an eagle every day? Sometimes you have to take one for the team.