At the end of his letter of advice written for James Harmon’s book, Take My Advice, Larry Niven writes, “Everybody talks first draft. Don’t react till you know what he meant.” In this quote he is talking about the importance of taking time to understand other people and to have enough self control to not react instantly to everything you hear. Niven would argue that it is important to give people a chance to explain what they mean or repeat what they said in a second way before we judge them. When people are speaking about something for the first time, as apposed to speaking about a routine topic, it is likely that they will not immediately have the words and language dialed in to explain themselves succinctly.
I really enjoy the self control aspect of Niven’s quote. His idea is all about being less reactionary in general, and being patient enough to try and understand other people. We often are in a rush, and it is easy to judge other people for their actions, appearances, and speech without trying to take a moment to understand them. Listening to others and giving them an opportunity to repeat wheat they said in a new way encourages us to think about how the other person has reached the point they are at, and why they think and speak the way they do. Our backgrounds all differ and we have many different experiences in our life that shape the way we view the world. Listening to someone and not judging their views on face value requires that we understand their background. To reach this level we must understand that what another says is never a complete summary of what they think and believe. Asking that person to explain and expand on what they are saying will help us dive deeper into their thoughts and ideas. Giving them more time to explain themselves helps us connect with others in a new way, and it helps us have a more well rounded approach to the world.
In addition, to fully engage in this quote we must see that we approach any conversation with our own background and expectations. The way we interpret the other person or the topic will influence the way we think about what the other person is saying. To allow ourselves to understand another person’s ideas, we must first make sure out understandings of that topic are out of the way. If we cannot reach that point we will be forced into a box where we only think about the things that do or do not align with what we already think. Instead, we should listen for the overall meaning of what the other person is saying, so that we can expand our vision and thoughts.