One of my favorite movie quotes comes from the Paul Newman movie, “Cool Hand Luke.” In that movie, Newman plays Luke, a chain gang prisoner, who is being addressed by the prison warden, played by Strother Martin, and who goes by “Captain.”
Captain says to Luke, “You gonna get used to wearing them chains after a while, Luke. Don’t you never stop listening to them clinking, ’cause they gonna remind you what I been saying for your own good.”
Luke replies, “I wish you’d stop being so good to me, Cap’n.”
Angered by Luke’s retort, Captain responds, “Don’t you ever talk that way to me. NEVER! NEVER!” He then starts beating on Luke, who rolls down the hill. Captain continues, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach.”
What strikes me about this “failure to communicate” quote is how true it is these days. Just look at our elected representatives in Congress. They are continuing to fail to communicate with one another. They are all so entrenched in their own ideologies and beliefs that nothing meaningful ever gets accomplished.
When I was a member of my high school debate club — yes, I was a bit of a nerd in high school — the faculty sponsor said, “Listen for understanding, not for rebuttal.” I thought that was wise advice, but does anyone do that anymore? Do people actually listen for understanding?
It doesn’t matter what the topic of conversation is. It can be politics, ideology, philosophy, religion, climate change, abortion, immigration, energy, culture, or society in general. Few people, it seems, are interested in truly communicating with one another. They just seem to dig in their heels and argue.
It’s even true in our personal lives. How many times have you gotten into an argument with a friend, with your spouse, your parents, your kids, or even with a co-worker, where you are not really hearing what the other person has to say? Are you and the person on the other side of the argument honestly and openly communicating with one another? Are you truly listening?
Do you ever find yourself involved in a debate on Twitter or in the comments sections on Facebook or on a blog post where everyone is “talking,” but it seems that no one is listening to or trying to understand others’ perspectives?
I admit to doing that more than I should.
What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.