Listen.

Captain Davenport: They’re pinging away with their active sonar like they’re looking for something, but nobody’s listening.
Jack Ryan: What do you mean?
Captain Davenport: Well, they’re moving at almost forty knots. At that speed, they could run right over my daughter’s stereo and not hear it.

That’s one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite Cold War movies, The Hunt for Red October. And I think it perfectly encapsulates one of my least favorite things about the 21st century.

You can see what I mean if you spend a couple minutes on Facebook, Twitter, what have you. Look at what is there–endless exhortations to speak up, to be heard, to get your “message” “out”. Make sure you get into the public eye, and make your voice stand out. By all means, ping. Blog. Vlog. Meme-ify everything. Emoji! Gif! Make your own noise in the world.

The increasingly noisy, cluttered, cacophonous world.

When a submarine shoots out a sonar pulse, it takes time for that pulse to go out and come back. If, in the meantime, the sub moves fast enough, the pulse will not return anything useful, no matter how loud or how big that thing is. What Captain Davenport is talking about is the nature of sonar–but it’s the nature of human beings, too. You cannot listen if you are talking. But you also cannot talk effectively if you are not listening.

All you can do is make noise. That can have its uses, as in the film. If all you want to do is scare the people you’re yelling at, listening is non-critical. But that kind of noise is useless for anything else. It will not persuade, uplift, correct, instruct, edify, teach, encourage. Are those things not absolutely critical in the modern age? Don’t we have enough fear?

I think we do. I’ll get off that hobby horse the first time I see a clinic open up to treat teen gratitude, instead of anxiety.

Look, I’m as guilty as anyone. I’m a talker. I love the sound of my own voice above all things. I write, and I write a LOT, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, you name it. Everything I can or even momentarily want to. I write lesson plans, blog posts, Facebook arguments. I’m contributing to the noise, absolutely, so this is not a see-how-much-better-I-am post. I need this advice as much as any person I know.

If we’re going to get anywhere, we have to work together. For every leader there has to be a follower. Performance needs audience. For everyone talking, someone has to listen. In all our wanting people to look at us, are we seeing anyone else?

Don’t we have to?

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