Hearing but not listening . . .

Cover of the 'Born in the USA' album
Cover of the 'Born in the USA' album

IN 1984 Bruce Springsteen released a song called 'Born in the USA' from an album with the same title. The album cover featured a baseball cap and the American flag. It quickly become a rock cornerstone, a classic that’s instantly recognisable from the opening, thumping, fist in the air cords.

Election campaigners played it as a rallying call to Americans everywhere, and Ronald Reagan even referred to Springsteen (in his presidential re-election campaign that same year) as “providing the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire”. A blue-collar American hero producing a sing-along anthem for the ages, extolling the virtues and greatness of the United States.

All gravy. Except for one thing: the fact that the campaigners forgot to actually digest the lyrics properly. Born in The USA was not the modern ‘America the Beautiful’ they thought it was. Far from it. The first lines are evidence enough of that: “Born down in a dead man’s town. The first kick I took was when I hit the ground. You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much. Till you spend half your life just covering up”.

It speaks to the disgraceful way Springsteen felt Vietnam veterans had been treated on returning home from the war. No place to settle down, no jobs, memories of the war still fresh in their heads. Essentially forgotten and discarded. Hardly something a politician would want to focus on or highlight as any form of triumph, especially given how US army veterans are usually lauded rather than ignored. They bought into the emotion and not the actuality.

Yet aren’t we all guilty of this on occasion? We get caught up in the fire and the fury. We hear the noise, not the signal. The medium becomes the message. How often do we spend five minutes listening to a colleague emotively making an impassioned plea at work and then rush off to take action on their behalf, based on a one-sided, probably biased opinion, simply because it struck a chord with us personally? We do it because we bought into the emotion, not the logic.

How often do we sit down and analytically review the actual content of a meeting, the boring bits like facts figures, rather than just remembering the soundbites and a vague sense that everything was all positive because there was a bit of a buzz during the presentation?

Have we ever been guilty of making snap decisions because we didn’t have the time to think our way through matters? Have we ever been seduced by enthusiasm to the detriment of thinking rationally? Do we extol the short-term benefits of rousing, inspirational tactics over the long-term cold hard vision and strategy?

Before we make any decision that’s likely to cause significant impact, we should find the time to draw breath, sit down and reflect. We should examine the small print of what’s being presented. We should consider the motivations of all those involved.

We should consider exactly who benefits and who doesn’t. We should think through the consequences and list out the likely outcomes; considering the volume, reach and impact. We should consider if there are alternatives available and extrapolate the same thinking for those. Separate emotion from reason.

What we should not do is get caught up in the drums and the guitars and ignore the actual message, because pretty soon you’ll find you’ve got “nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go”.

And just for the record, REM’s classic ‘The One I Love’ isn’t a love song.

:: Barry Shannon is HR director at TSYS Cayan in Belfast