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I have been studying Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits for a quarter of a century, as have many of those with whom I have connected on LinkedIn. The recent 30th Anniversary Edition hit my hallway floor last Saturday – actually, it hit the outside step as the delivery person stood safely distant –and I am deep within its pages again. I have already discovered a few missed nuggets. Including today.

Habit 5 – Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood – has been a familiar tenet in the corporate world, I am sure. I have read that chapter many times, and always sworn to try to apply it in testing or inquisitorial conversations. The book itself describes its use in many such instances, using examples from the perspective of the lives of individuals in their personal and working lives to illustrate how verbal conversations can be improved through application of the aforementioned Habit..

Today, I found a bit I missed and, according to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (if my experience is anything to go by), so have a lot of other people. And possibly the reason I missed it is because this nugget was detailed not in Habit 5’s chapter, but in Habit 7’s, on renewal.

He wrote about great literature that ‘(reading in various fields) can expand our paradigms and sharpen our mental saw, particularly if we practice Habit 5 as we read, and seek first to understand.

That was a AHA! moment. Or indeed a DUH! moment. I’d never thought about that, even if I’d exercised it. ‘Seek First to Understand what we READ’. It isn’t just a conversational model.

Realising that, and recognising its importance, led me to ask the question, “If people read the news with an enquiring rather than an assumptive mindset, would most of the rubbish on social media go away?’

Yes. People would read the allegations, check the facts, research any science or laws applicable, review the political past of the reporter/witness/commentator and eventually, perhaps, come to a less) emotional, ideological or ill-informed conclusion. And then shut the hell up.

(Of course, it might wind them up even more…..)

At the moment, we are witnessing a change in the reportage of the media. They have gone from just reporting, worked through and past analysis, and on to out-and-out commentary. Unfortunately, this is proving to be commentary without real, deep, objective or unbiased analysis.

It’s as if the middle bit is a bar to profit for the printed and commercial media, and a bar to fame and notoriety for the public-broadcaster’s employees who are all vying for a better position, or their own programme. The objective is no longer balanced reportage – it is fame and/or profit through a ‘shock-jock’ style approach..

(The last time newsreaders did something outside simple news-reading for fame, they dressed as sailors and did flick-flacks for Morecombe and Wise.)

Where have the Paul Foots and the Martin Bells and the Michael Buerks gone? They all reported injustice and societal disasters without the need for constant personal attack or self-importance. Even the famed Watergate reporter Bob Woodward now seems to be left-biased, and only appears when the right is to be attacked. (I would’ve said criticised but they’ve all gone way past that.)

But more to my point – why have we, the public, stopped putting in the effort and started to just accept what is thrown at us by the media without asking ‘Is this true, exaggerated, misunderstood or made up?’ Why have we omitted that step and then just lost our sanity and sense of calm over what we have not checked is worth that effort?

Habit 5 – Seek First To Understand is a sensible, reasoned, objective and intellectually satisfying approach to news, documentaries and other sources of information. The counter to Habit 5, Seeking First to Assume, makes an – well, you know.

Don’t be one of those.