In his classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey tells us that we should “seek first to understand and then to be understood.”
This is one of the key elements in building global understanding. How do we achieve it, however, living in the digital age?
Megan Phelps-Roper grew up as a member of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church. As a young adult, she became an online crusader for her church through social media. In her recent Ted-Talk, she discusses how this eventually led to her questioning her beliefs and leaving this community. Much of the change she experienced had to do with the online friends she developed who exemplified Covey’s principle.
In her Ted-Talk, Phelps-Roper presented the four point formula these people had unconsciously followed.
First, don’t assume bad intent. As Phelps-Roper says, “When we assume good or neutral intent, we give our minds a much stronger framework for dialogue.”
The second guideline is ask questions. This makes a person feel heard, and they also begin to naturally ask questions as well.
The third point is to stay calm. Do not lash out and say something that one may regret later. In social media we can take a break, walk away, change the subject, and come back to the topic when we are calmer.
The final point is make your argument. Our views are important, and others need to hear them. They may challenge them, but that too is an important part of this process.
In many ways the world is becoming smaller. When we keep in mind these principles for building understanding, it is clear that there is room for all of us.