One step further
February 7, 2013 2 Comments
Yesterday, I had the privilege of sitting in on an interview with James Madison University President Jon Alger. He is an articulate and thoughtful man whose ideas for the future of the university are truly inspiring.
The interview was wide-ranging, but one particular area was especially encouraging. President Alger extolled the importance of building relationships, a sentiment that is thrown around so often that it can become a platitude.
Our world of enhanced communications should afford each of us new and easier methods to build relationships. But does it? Or is it possible that in knowing that communication is easy, we forget that genuine and productive communication still takes considerable effort?
We live in a society splintered by politics, religions, passions and grievances. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the comment section of any given online news outlet. We are a nation of commenters — no, let me rephrase that: We have become a world of commenters conjoined by one-sided electronic communication. None of this builds relationships; it does the opposite. It polarizes and hardens our opinions.
Relationships, the kind the president extols, require work. They are much like plants; when they are nurtured and nourished, they grow. But when they are ignored and neglected, they wither.
During the interview with President Alger, however, I heard a solution to this dilemma that we would all be wise to embrace. The key to building these all important relationships is listening, a talent that Mr. Alger has demonstrated with patience and sincerity during his extended Why Madison? tour. In fact, his audiences are often impressed by his ability to listen.
It is an art, this skill of listening — an art we should all learn. But even listening has its limits. It must go one step further. We have to hear. And then we have to converse.
What I heard from Mr. Alger yesterday was not a call to listen as much as a call to listen and to hear and then to develop the conversations that lead to the relationships that move us all forward.