Press Talk: Two topics for the future

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Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian's editor emeritus. His column of personal opinion appears the first Saturday of every month. Reach him at lounews1@gmail.com.

In the coming days, we’ll see lots of stories looking back over the crazy year that is about to end, but there are a couple of concepts I’m hoping we all can find time to examine as we look forward.

At first glance, they might not seem all that important, but I happen to believe they’re critical to our future. And I hope you’ll weigh in.

Listening

We all need to listen more. I mean really listen. Really listening is a lost art. I know, for example, I could do a lot better at listening.

So why is listening so difficult? The truth is, we’ve all been taught at a very young age to express ourselves but not taught how to listen. We are constantly encouraged to talk. As we grow older, we also are taught not to let others “walk all over you.” You have an idea? Say it forcefully and — whatever you do — don’t cower. Don’t … back … down.

See the problem? The squeaky wheel always gets the attention. Yep. We’ve created a society of monsters who never really hear arguments for stuff we don’t agree with. Oh, we sometimes pretend we’re listening, but what we’re really doing is biting our lip, waiting until that other testa dura shuts his pie hole.

Bernard Ferrari, author of “Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All,” writes about three behaviors that would serve us all well:

  • Be respectful.
    Appreciate the person you are talking to has a unique perspective and that perspective could broaden your understanding. When you show that person you’re really interested in his or her view, he or she is more likely to be more interested in your view.
  • Talk less and listen more.
    There’s no stopwatch required, but try this: Talk about 20 percent of the time and listen the other 80 percent. And with your 20 percent of the time, ask questions with some of it.
  • Challenge assumptions.
    Be willing to challenge the assumptions you have for forming the opinions you have. This is very difficult to do, but if we are not open to this concept and the person we’re talking with is not open to this concept, very little will change in life.

Listening is important for all of us. If we all really listened more, President Trump would still be starring in “The Apprentice.” Or if President Trump really listened more, he wouldn’t be such a testa dura.

All politicians should take a hint. And listen.

Technoglut

Speaking of listening, I happen to be listening to the camp that believes that kids don’t listen enough, and that’s in large part because they’re spending too much time on their smartphones. And because kids spend the majority of their waking young lives in school, it is the school system that must teach kids to back off of being joined at the hip to their phones.

There are school systems across the country that also believe this is a growing concern. Some force kids to check their phones at the door when they get to school. Others force kids to put them in a pouch, only to be pulled out in an emergency.

Essentially, smartphones have become addictive. Think of alcohol. In moderate amounts, there’s nothing terribly wrong with alcohol. But you know you might be in trouble if someone tries to take your drink away from you … and you go kinda nutty.

Try taking a phone away from a kid.

So what happens to kids’ learning ability if their phones are taken away from them? Well, a study by the London School of Economics showed that schools that banned students from using phones in school showed an improvement in their test scores. (OK, one study does not make the end-all case.)

But is there another side? A side I’m willing to listen to? You bet. I spoke with Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Steve Webb a few days ago. Essentially, he’s in this camp: Technology is everywhere. Get used to it.

If we want to prepare future-ready graduates with the adaptive skills necessary to thrive in the interdependent, technology-driven work world of tomorrow, they need to access to future-ready technology tools to support their learning today, Webb said.

He added: Selecting the right resources is part of that process, along with teaching students about the responsible use of technology so that it enhances their learning and doesn’t detract from it.

When I asked if technology could be a distraction to learning, he had an answer:

We all know that students managed to find ways to be off-task long before mobile technology.

• • •

OK, so let’s start a discussion on all of this. After all, you don’t want to be known as a testa dura.