Thursday, October 28, 2010

Understanding perspective - who's right after all?

Often wondered why people get into conflict with one another? Self interest, thoughtlessness, stubbornness... there are many reasons. I'm often amused listening to people involved in arguments who seem to agree on the same principles but seem intent to remain at cross purposes, hell-bent on winning the argument. The "winner" is not necessarily the one who was right, but is often the one with the greatest need to be acknowledged as being right. We've learned that no one truly wins a war - the real test is about who wins the peace.

Imagine you're walking in the foothills of the mountains. Stop and take in the splendour of the cliffs, the trees and the surrounding hills. After a while, commence walking again for another 200 metres. Stop and observe again. What has happened?

Although you have only moved a short distance much has changed. You can now see things you could not see 200 metres back, and some of the things you saw earlier have disappeared. In fact, the scenery is now almost completely different, despite the reality that you've moved only a very short distance. You're really looking at the same thing, but from a different angle.

This is what we mean when we consider perspective. Different people look at the same things from different standpoints producing…well, different "points of view." When we appreciate and become sensitive to other people's different ways of looking at things, we begin to develop an ability shared by few - the ability to "put oneself in the other's shoes" or more simply, to see things from their perspective.

Differing perspective is the most common basis of conflict among humans. Instinct leads us to pursue our own point of view. Wisdom leads us to explore the standpoints of others in order to acquire an understanding of their perspectives and the basis thereof. This exploration leads to a significant increase in communication skill and empathy. It helps us to pause before making assumptions. It allows us to consider the extraordinary possibility that we may, unlikely as it may seem, occasionally be mistaken.

You see, everyone thinks they're right - often even when they've been proven wrong. The true test of wisdom is to check your instinct in the heat of the argument, bury your pride and ask yourself - is it possible that my opponent (sometimes read "spouse") may have a reason for thinking that they are right?

Just a thought.

Paul du Toit, Certified Speaking Professional

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Corruption - the root of all evil

I have long been of the opinion that excessive corruption is the root of most
ills in society. Be it from drug dealing, bribery or using political connections
for favours - the illegal lining of pockets is a despicable evil. It depletes
the treasury of much needed development funding and shackles the economy. I must
therefore join the chorus of approval for the recent sentence handed down to our
corrupt former Police Commissioner, Jackie Selebi. The fact that our Top Cop was
accepting bribes from drug lords made his greed even more despicable. His job
was to protect the people of this country - and he was well paid to do so. Under
his stewardship the police failed to make any impression on any level of crime.
Instead, he betrayed the weakest, propping up villians who make fortunes by
destroying vulnerable lives. Jail must be extremely unpleasant. However, it is
mild in comparison to the misery of the families whose lives he has colluded in
destroying - because that's what it amounts to when you collude with drug

At last we have a high profile villian brought to justice. Unfortunately, it
is just the tip of the iceberg, and the amounts of money in this case were
modest compared to the vast sums that are being pilfered as I write. Let's not
discuss what this trial has cost you and I, the taxpayer. At least weekly, a
fresh case of wasteful expenditure, questionable tenders or favours for cronies
is being exposed by our vigilant media - whom the government is now trying to
muzzle with their new Protection of Information Bill. Unless more Jackie Selebis
are brought to book, the economic growth of our beautiful country and the
alleviation of the poor's suffering will remain stunted.

It is ironic that prior to President Jacob Zuma's election as president of
South Africa, leaked documents to the press indicating that intelligence
services were engaging in illegal phone tapping led to charges of corruption
being dropped against him. How different may things have been were this proposed
legislation in place at that time? Yet it is the very same freedom that got him
off the hook that he now seeks to curtail.

Imperfect as democracy is, in order to claim to be one, a country needs a
free press and transparent government. No less.

[Herewith endeth the rant]

Ciao, Paul.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Writing Properly - Did You Write What You Meant?

Here's the main difference between the written and the spoken word: When you speak, your voice communicates various nuances through tone. Therefore, the spoken word is subject to interpretation much more than the written word. Hence the frequently heard "Well I thought you meant...!" Well, what did I say? Perhaps more important - how did your words come across? The meaning of a sentence can be altered simply by emphasizing a different word! People can also work out what you mean by interpreting the context when the spoken word is used. This can happen when the speaker communicates in a language in which they have a limited vocabulary.

The written word on the other hand is quite different. When we write, we often do so with emotion - we can feel our own tone of voice which is an expression of our feelings. But the reader can't. The reader reads what he/she sees. So often we type a message to someone meaning one thing, but when they read it, they understand something different

I typed a text message to some friends as follows:

"Thought of doing the Spur or something similar for kids next Saturday eve. Let us know if you can join us.....". My almost 9 year old asked to see the text and then commented: "But I want to go to the Spur, Daddy. Why did you write - or something?" I then explained to her that if I was receiving that text and had an aversion to the Spur, I would have to reply "no thanks, we don't do Spur". But the purpose of the invite was to spend time with friends, so a suggestion was made, and the "or something" gave us all options. The only question remaining is - if they are free next Saturday evening, would they like to go out with us?

It's worth noting that when you write an angry note to someone, the best thing to do is not to send it immediately. Wait until you've calmed down, then go back and read it. Ask yourself just this question: How would I feel if I received this message. Then you'll know whether you should send it as it is, or make alterations.

My key message is this. It's very important to review what we write to ascertain if what we wrote is what we meant. If you can't be sure, get another pair of eyes to check it for you. You may be pleased you did.

Because you may be able to deny you said something, but it's difficult to take back what's in writing. 

Paul du Toit, Author and Certified Speaking Professional