Meridian Star

February 6, 2013

No one is listening

By Michael Stewart / Executive Editor
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — Flipping through late night TV channels last night I happened upon one of my favorite movie quotes of all time when actor Strother Martin tells Paul Newman, "What we've got here is failure to communicate."

    The movie, of course, was the 1967 classic "Cool Hand Luke," which is, to me, one of the best character studies ever put to screen.

    In the film, Martin is the captain of a Southern prison where obedience by incarcerated chain gang members is savagely enforced. Newman portrays Luke, a bullheaded non-conformist prisoner who refuses to submit to the captain's authoritarian regime.

    After his third escape, right before he is fatally shot by the most sadistic of the prison guards — Boss Godfrey, played by Morgan Woodward — Luke taunts the captain by throwing his quote back at him, "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

    In some respects Luke and the captain were a lot a like — immovable, unyielding and destined to clash. The two men were right in one respect; they never did communicate.

    It's a common problem. We've all encountered people who refuse to consider others' viewpoints. And we've all been guilty of the same at some point or another.

    A refusal to communicate has become high art in our nation's capitol.

    German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel posited a theory of communication that would later be dubbed the Hegelian Triadic Dialectic.    

    Basically, Hegel reasoned that a person would come up with an idea, or thesis, that would eventually be challenged by an opposing idea, or antithesis. The best portions of the thesis and antithesis would be merged in a process Hegel called synthesis, and a new and better idea or thesis would emerge.

    Later philosophers would build upon Hegel's work to explain how the continual process of thesis/antithesis/synthesis builds world knowledge and societal growth.

    Personal communication and public debate bog down, however, when two opposing viewpoints collide and there is no synthesis; no consideration to the fact that there may be some validity to the other's viewpoint.

    We've witnessed this in our political system, and many of us have experienced it in our personal and business lives.

    We've all seen divorces, hateful exchanges and unhappiness that can result from a failure to communicate.

    We've all encountered an immovable force like that of the captain and, like Luke, felt as if despite our best efforts to escape we are destined to clash.

    And we've all turned a deaf ear to another's position. It is all too easy to say as Luke did when another prisoner accused him of failing to listen, "I ain't heard that much worth listen' to."