Sometimes we just need to listen


Journalists – and Greek ones in particular – love to talk. A lot. But it is important that we learn to listen as well, as has been discovered – often in a brutal manner – by media all around the world.

In a recent discussion here in Athens, Mark Thompson, president and chief executive officer of The New York Times Company, explained how the American elite was blindsided by the election of Donald Trump because it hadn’t been listening closely enough. Trapped in a bubble with people who share the same same tastes and beliefs, the country’s elite failed to sense the tectonic shifts in American public opinion. This also happened in Greece in the first few years of the crisis and led to a severing of the bond of trust between the public and the media.

Listening, of course, is different to pretending to care, to pretending to understand the other’s pain for purely commercial reasons. There have been a lot of journalists in the past few years who peddled anger and rode the wave of public despair for their own selfish ends.

Another very serious mistake often committed by the elite, and one which proved fatal for Hillary Clinton, is dismissing offhand as irritating or ridiculous the point of view or reactions of citizens who believe people like Trump or some conspiracy theory or another. Here in Greece we often hear people saying that the country can never change because the people are what they are. For her part, Clinton ridiculed Trump’s supporters because she couldn’t understand them – and she paid for it.

Back to Greece now, there is a battle going on at the moment between the present and the past that has manifested itself in the controversy between regular taxi drivers and those registered with the Beat taxi app. It is easy to dismiss the opinions and manner of Thymios Lymberopoulos, the veteran unionist who represents professional cabbies. But not so the way he expresses the fears of hundreds of people who understand that they are stuck in the past and are anxious about the future.

No one has sat down to explain to these people – people exhausted by the crisis and accustomed to doing their job a certain way – that they can adapt to a new way, to the future way. They feel threatened and exposed, too fearful to make the crossing to the other side.

They also have voices promising them protection and a return to the old status quo, even though these voice know full well this is not sustainable. The problem is that no one is talking to them about their alternatives and, more importantly, no one is really listening to them.