Monday, June 1, 2009

Edoardo Ballerini - "at the root of every artist is a desire to connect with an audience" and Renny Gleeson on our culture of availability

Edoardo Ballerini recently shared his thoughts with us on listening; this was part of a longer conversation that we cut into bits separated by topic. I thought Edoardo's point-of-view on listening made a whole lotta sense, so much so that I've taken some pretty dramatic steps to improve my own listening which I'll share in a moment.

Renny Gleeson recently shared his his point-of-view on our culture of availability during a very funny TED talk this year.

Renny talked about the tactics and strategies we use to furtively check our emails and texts while in various social contexts. Check out the video, it really makes a point. My favorite tactic shows up at about 1:35 - the "love you, mean it."

Renny says that when we're standing with someone and looking at our BlackBerry or iPhone, we're saying, "you are not as important as literally almost anything that could come to me through this device."

It's the exact opposite of being present, and without genuinely being present to another, it's impossible to imagine being compassionate to them. How can you be compassionate when you're not listening? When you're saying, as Gleeson says, "what's happening here, now, isn't as important to me as what could be happening anywhere else."

So this has everything to do with Edoardo's talk about listening. Edoardo said:
"We spend most of our lives and days I believe with assumptions about the world around us... especially as the years go by you get a little older, you think you know how things work, you think you know what somebody's going to say to you or what they mean by something, and we stop listening. We stop listening to our friends, our partners, the people we work with, the random person walking down the street, we just kinda shut everything out. The skill of listening... allows you to let go of yourself, understand where somebody else is coming from."
In thinking about Gleeson's talk, and Jon Kabat-Zinn's work, and my daily doses of Thich Nhat Hanh, and with the help of a few of my friends, I'm cutting down my email, instant message, and Facebooking dramatically. How can I be compassionate if I'm not paying attention? If you've been on the phone with me, you know what I'm talking about. We're in the middle of talking about something, and then I pause... maybe respond with a noncommittal uh-huh, and then come back to our conversation as though nothing has happened. But what you probably intuited was that I was taking a brief peek at an email or an IM, and for that moment, I wasn't there with you, I was somewhere else. Doing something else.

Something that was apparently more important than actually talking to you.

So for the past two weeks I've shut down my email except for specific times of day, when that's all I'm doing. I'm not talking on the phone, I'm not in a meeting. I'm just catching up on and responding to emails. I've abolished IM'ing entirely. In the past, when I was on the phone, one of our assistants would alert me to an incoming call, and I'd tell them what to do via IM, while I remained on the original call. I don't know how I never noticed before that this requires a significant amount of brain energy, that while I'm iChatting, I'm not actually in the original conversation!

The same thing applies to when I'm at home: specific times of day for email, no furtive BlackBerry usage. Do I really want to send my wife and kids the message that anything coming through this device is more important than being here, right now, with you?

Wish me luck. All in the name of cultivating compassion.

Moving on to Edoardo's second video, which we actually recorded at the same time as the first. Don here kindly cut the videos to pieces so that we could discuss them by topic.

Edoardo talks about compassion, and how "art, in general, is rooted in compassion."

"As an audience member I think the things that fail, be it a painting or a movie... or whatever it may be, are the ones that you walk away from thinking that didn't actually say anything to me, it didn't actually mean anything to me, it didn't try to understand me, it didn't try to explain the world that might be helpful to me."

Again, fundamentally, Edoardo's pointing out the obvious: that without compassion, which requires listening, it's hard to imagine how an artist would be able to connect with an audience.

Thanks, Edoardo!

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