Megan Rapinoe, co-captain of the 2019 United States Women National Soccer Team (who won the World Cup, the Golden Boot, and the Golden Ball trophies), had an inspiring and interesting challenge to everyone. It’s brevity stands in sharp contrast to the time it would take to achieve its goal. Because, while it sounds like a simple challenge, in reality it is extremely difficult.
Let’s review it first:
“This is my charge to everyone: We have to be better. We have to love more. Hate less. We got to listen more and talk less. It’s our responsibility to make the world a better place.”
Now, let’s break it down a bit.
We have to be better This seems to mean that we need to be better people, which means that there’s an objective standard that no one knows and everyone thinks they know. What is it to be better as a person? This is debatable, and a distraction to her point, in my opinion.
What is a more digestible translation of “be better” is “to be better at” doing something, which follows in the next sentence.
We have to love more – This makes love sound like a choice, and to love a command. Call me romantic, but I don’t think love (platonic or intimate) can be assigned or controlled. Loving more would be great, but it just isn’t up to us, unless she means love ourselves more, and that has some profound implications. Maybe we lash out at others because we need to project our self-doubt on external entities. Love thyself sounds kind of ethereal and airy; but if we called it “accept ourselves–with willingness to improve”, then maybe that achieves the same goal Rapinoe holds.
We have to hate less –This isn’t the same as loving more, though. Hate is a term thrown around a lot with little understanding. Most “haters” on the Internet don’t really hate. Very few people actually hate broccoli or the Patriots. Hate isn’t disagreement, an aversion, a discomfort, or a distaste. It’s not even dis-like or indifference. Hate is an active, sub-conscious drive. It’s an identity cornerstone: A part of someone’s identity is driven by an internal force. Hating less is ideal; it requires insight and understanding. This is a difficult charge from her. Luckily, not many people have that inner hate energy. However, they do have a deep frustration over disagreement of values, which is often seen as hate.
Listen more – Perhaps the most difficult charge. Listening is not the same as hearing. It requires an acceptance of a message (not necessarily agreement). It is absent of judgment and bias. It means listening to things with which you disagree, and which may even offend you, either on purpose of accidental. It also means to keep listening and not think of a retort, or speak, or interrupt in any way. If you’re thinking or talking, then you’re not listening. This is not easy.
Active listening is a good way to ensure that you are listening, and it takes practice. Frustrating practice. Active listening also communicates to the speaker that, yes, you actually are listening to them. How many times have you said, thought, or heard “you aren’t even listening to me”? Having someone not listening to you escalates the tension. Yelling is an expected next step—discussing the original topic becomes increasingly less likely.
An aim of active listening is to accurately determine the meaning of the message in a way that you understand. To do that, you must be active. In simple terms, you restate what you heard back to the speaker. This serves two purposes: 1) invites/requests clarity, 2) demonstrates listening. “If I heard you correctly….”, “I hear you saying…is this correct?” These are different than “you said….”, or “so, you’re saying”. Communicate to them what you heard, don’t tell them what they said, and DO NOT REPEAT what they said word for word. You’re not a parrot. Use your own words—maybe you don’t restate their message accurately. Maybe they didn’t say exactly what they mean and hearing it from another’s perspective might give them an opportunity to re-think it. The point is to achieve accuracy, so this may take a few more minutes.
Using your own words also helps to uncover the interest, or the focal point. It re-centers conversation around the issue instead of a person.
Talk less – This goes against Dr. Hawking’s insistence that we keep talking. I don’t actually know what Rapinoe meant; only she does, and I have no way to engaging in active listening with her (I can hope, though!). I took it to mean talk less as a way to argue, ridicule, and demean, and more as a way to exchange ideas, thoughts, and concerns. Talk less to avoid interruption (see above), talk more to clarify messages.
It’s our responsibility to make the world a better place. That’s Herculean. But we can go ahead and invoke the gist of JFK’s Moonshot speech; we choose to do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard. It’s going to take work—mostly on the part of ourselves battling our inner outbursts, biases, and gut reactions. We will be challenged by people trying to do the same, and even more challenged by those who are not. It’s up to us how we choose to engage and respond. Problem solving, overcoming challenges, constructing unity, and are all based on communication, and that starts with you.
For more information on active listening, conflict management, and communication, visit OvalOptions.com