By now you likely know there is a fierce debate ranging in America.

An audio file has emerged from the bowels of the internet to set social media all aflutter.

Is it Laurel?

Is it Yanny?

Depends upon who you are, it seems. Some of us perceive frequencies differently than others. Hence, the division.

I played the clip at our staff meeting this morning and asked our team what they heard. About two thirds of our folks heard “Laurel.” A third heard “Yanny.” You should’ve seen the looks on the faces around the table as people realized that we were all taking in the same content but coming to vastly different conclusions on what we were hearing.

People were in shock. They were incredulous. Their heads went to their hands in disbelief. Mouths dropped agape. They thought they might be crazy. Then, upon hearing it again, they concluded everyone else must be crazy.

As it turns out, no one is crazy.

Yes, we’re taking in the same information.

But we’re wired to perceive it differently. 

It didn’t take long for me to make the leap to see the audio clip as a metaphor for modern American political discourse.

There is a lot of disbelief in our country at how someone else could come to a different conclusion than we do. It’s hard for us to admit that someone else’s perspective might have some validity to it, even if it stands in contradiction to our own.

Many in our land are incredulous. They are observing certain facts and then looking around and realizing that not everyone perceives them the same way they do. Disbelief. Head in hands. Mouths agape. “Are you serious?!?”

They must be crazy. They listen again, straining to hear what everyone else is hearing.

No, it’s definitely what they think it is — so everyone else must be crazy.

I call it the “How can anyone…” syndrome.

  • How can anyone think that moving the embassy to Jerusalem is a good idea?
  • How can anyone have voted for Hillary Clinton?
  • How can anyone with a soul own an AR-15?
  • How can anyone with a brain believe in God?

The how can anyone’s have their grip on us as a society. This benign audio clip is exposing this instinct in us. “How can anyone hear Laurel?” “How can anyone hear Yanny?”

What if the difference in our perception is the way we listen? what if we were able to change the way we listen?

On the heels of the Laurel/Yanny debate, tools were developed to help us hear the same exact recording, but hear it differently. People who heard “Laurel” (by adjusting the percentage of high and low frequencies in the clip) could all of the sudden discern “Yanny.” By altering frequencies, you can now listen to the same clip and come to understand that what other people are perceiving really is in there. You just couldn’t hear it before.

What if we changed the way we listen in life? What if we didn’t listen ready to pounce on people who see things differently than we do? What if we could “adjust the frequency” with which we perceive facts about our society and come to empathize with those of a different viewpoint?

I’m not suggesting there’s no lines that need to be drawn. There are things that just aren’t the truth, regardless of what perception someone may have. The audio clip sounds like “Laurel” to some and “Yanny” to others, but no one things it says “artichoke” or “walrus.”

Still, I can’t help but think that this whole internet controversy didn’t come at the perfect time. There are so many examples of “clips” we hear these days. There is so much content we’re taking in, but we’re listening on vastly different frequencies.

Maybe, just maybe, if we adjust the way we listen, we could come to appreciate that even though we don’t see it the way our friends do, that doesn’t mean they’re ignorant or evil or unreasonable.

In life’s complexities, as it is with silly little audio clips, when we demonstrate some empathy, we can often come to see things through another’s eyes.

Or, as the case may be, hear things through another’s ears.


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