Thanks, Biz, But I Don't Need To Know What's On Your Mind

It’s Twitter founder Biz Stone’s latest venture: Super, an app designed to let people speak their minds.

“It’s loud, it’s bright, and we think you’ll dig it,” they say in the FAQ. It is, of course, well-designed. It’s got Bill Murray on the homepage, which is almost unfairly awesome. There’s a virtual certainty that Super will gain some measure of success, depending largely on how you define such things.

The bigger question, however, is potentially more profound: Do we really need more people speaking their minds? Do we need more opinions on Kim Kardashian’s rear end or Renee Zellweger’s new front end? Isn’t it true that what we really need is more people listening?

(O, irony! O, hubris! How does one dare suggest a shift towards greater listening while simultaneously spouting one’s own overblown opinion? I have no answer. Just go with it.)

I realize that you probably have a lot to say, and I am certain I would find much of it interesting. If you and I were to meet, I would ask you a million questions. I would ask you what your passion is, and whether, in the words of Oriah Mountain Dreamer, “you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.”



So this is not to suggest that everyone should just shut up -- although, imagine how powerful it would be if everyone -- everyone -- stopped for just a moment. Stopped talking. Stopped Facebooking. Stopped checking phones. Stopped and was still.

But short of that, I’d like to propose something simpler: that our first question to ourselves should not be, “Do I have anything to say?” -- but rather, “Do I have anything to learn?”

Listening can take different forms, but there are common threads. Combine silence with attentiveness and space. Accept information in multiple formats. Seek, in the words of Joseph Joubert, not victory but progress.

My friend Janne travels the world asking people to draw a beautiful moment from their past week. She has collected more than 7,500 drawings, some of which you can see here. Janne says she has never gotten a bad response, although once, in Serbia, a woman said she couldn't participate because she didn’t have any good moments. But after 10 minutes, the woman came back and drew a picture of her son playing soccer.

As with the irony of this column, the irony of Janne’s project is that, without people sharing their own moments, there is nothing for her or others to listen to. But it is, I hope, obvious that there is a qualitative difference between the headspace created by an “everybody broadcast your random thoughts” kind of platform and the headspace created with a “stop, reflect, share something meaningful,” kind of platform. One is focused on transmitting; the other, on receiving.

This, I believe, is what we need now: to stop and reflect. To receive, to create space, and to pay attention.

Biz Stone, you are more than capable of creating yet another peer-to-peer mass-communication platform. I invite you, instead, to lend your phenomenal entrepreneurial skills in support of the better angels of our nature.

Don’t help us talk more. Help us listen.

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