I wonder how carefully people read what I write? At the end of last week, I cross-posted my "Dear Senator Clinton" letter and my entry on "Speaking of Guns" on my Huffington Post blog, and have been amazed by the response--82 of them on the former and 65 on the latter--some quite complimentary, others in disagreement, and a number purely hostile. I've also had something of an exchange, over the weekend, with a reader who objected to what he saw to be an unwarranted attack on Hillary Clinton.
Which all interests me because a surprising amount of this comment simply missed the points I was making: that if the next round of primaries confirms the momentum for Obama, Clinton should not resort to "any means necessary" to secure the nomination by manipulating the political machinery, risking the November election in the process; and that the rhetoric around gun ownership is quick to go over the top after incidents like last week's--though I broadened this argument to speculate that the rhetoric on the right is generally more venomous than the rhetoric on the left.
What many of those who read these two pieces seemed to believe I had written was rather different from what I actually wrote--that I somehow despised or disrespected Hillary Clinton or that she should immediately withdraw from the race; and, of course, that I was a knee-jerk opponent of the "right to bear arms," the gun lobby, and gun owners in general. No. In the first case I was talking about listening to the voice of the people, in the second about the way we talk about the issues, not the issues themselves.
I suspect that in our haste to get things done and move on, we tend not to read but to skim through what's written and grab onto a few "keywords" and a general impression of the writer's position. I know I'm often guilty of that myself, when reading a newspaper or a magazine, or even a book. We don't have time for the subtleties of language. We read what we want to believe the author has written rather than his or her actual words, and then treat our own reading as what has been said. When I stand accused of having "lambasted" Hillary Clinton, for example, I know that my carefully chosen and respectful words have not been heard as they were intended.
The same applies, I'm sure, to the attention we pay when we listen to others. Our attention span is short, we want to get our say, we respond too quickly to what we imagine has been said. And here, as always, the Buddhist teaching is useful and wise. Take a breath. Pay attention. Practice equanimity and Right Speech--and for that matter, Right Listening. Take the ego out of the equation... I don't know about you, but I still have much to learn.