If one had to find some time and simply stop and look at what is going around him, one would notice that we are becoming a people who live in a paradox: that of communicating with others yet at the same time speaking alone.
Many consider the lack of communication as the root of problems between couples, within or between groups or nations, this has almost become a cliché. Although it is in part true (like all clichés after all) I believe that our generation faces a more serious problem: the lack of dialogue which is today clothed in the illusion of communication.
The means which enable us to communicate, from the comfort of our couches or else while busily going about our lives, are very vast and we risk to get the impression that we are communicating more than ever before. Communication has become more efficient and instantaneous; you see something happen you take a photo and you show it to the whole world; a bright (you may think) idea or comment comes to mind and you spread it all over your social media accounts.
All this gives us the (fictitious) feeling that we have the power to scream out loud our ideas till the end of the world when in fact we would only be reaching a couple of Facebook walls or twitter accounts. If others deem it worth it or sometimes simply cool, they share or like it or else re-tweet it and it will spread a little further. “Yay I am communicating!” you may think. But is it truly so? Are you communicating with others or simply speaking on your own?
Without any doubt this has created a greater consciousness about the importance of communicating one’s thoughts and ideas (considered today as sacrosanct). This is in itself a very good aspect of our culture. It gives the possibility to strengthen the fundamental right of freedom of expression and also encourages critical thinking. Yet I get the feeling that many of us while on the one hand advocate free thinking are on the other simply conforming to the mass without applying any critical thought of their own. As long as you say something you get the illusion of communicating. At the root of all this there is, maybe, a confusion which today is very common
Today, the right of freedom of expression is being confused with the right of giving (not simply having) an opinion. Freedom of expression is not the ‘right’ to give an opinion but the right or better still the fundamental right (i.e. derived from our own human nature) which endows us with the liberty to express our own being. Having intelligence and freedom of choice we should also be able to express it. We thus have the liberty to express our disagreement with an authority or with the majority without the fear that these will retort against us simply because of this disagreement – this is where the freedom lies. The right to have an opinion however is not a fundamental right (here the dividing line gets really thin). What I mean is that opinions are not all of the same value. While freedom of expression is equal for everyone, the opinion about a subject or an issue, a situation or a circumstance depends on the person expressing that opinion. Thus its value depends greatly on the knowledge of such person on the subject, issue, situation or circumstance. The freedom of an expression is something more wholesome as it stems from our human being. An opinion, on the other hand, is something very specific as it stems from just a part of it: our knowledge. This is only part of who we are. In no way should anyone be disadvantaged or persecuted because of their opinions or hindered in any way from expressing them, but on the other hand this should not be mixed with the fundamental freedom of expression thus giving a sense of entitlement to give one’s opinion on everything and expecting it to be respected equal to other opinions, on the other hand everyone (equally) should be given the same opportunity of expression; a case in point is universal suffrage.
We seem to confuse the right of having and expressing an opinion as being the epitome of freedom of expression. This is, to say the least, belittling this fundamental right. As stated above, apart from this confusion, the problem we are facing is not a problem of communication in itself but rather a problem of dialogue. Today a culture of hearing is more than ever required lest we end up solitary beings living together on our own.
Dialogue requires both that you express yourself but above all it requires that you listen attentively in a spirit of respect what others have to say too. Dialogue requires that two communicate with each other. Here communication is transformed into dialogue as soon as both are ready to listen to each other before they are prompt to express themselves. This is what I mean by a culture of hearing – this in and of itself bears a culture of dialogue and possibly a solution to many of the problems we face today.