Zen and the Art of Listening

Confirmation bias is a powerful force.

An AI-generated painting in traditional Japanese style depicting a Zen master and students in a circle.
The Zen Master and his students. Image generated with AI by DALL-E.

The day was young and promising and the students sat in a circle around the Master.

The Master began, “Today, we’ll play the Whispers of the Middle Kingdom.”

A student asked, “Is it a game, Master?”

“Indeed it is,” the Master said. "A message goes from ear to ear, changing along the way. Once it’s made full circle, we’ll witness what has become of it.

Masayoshi, why don’t you start? Whisper a few words to Nemuri, and Nemuri, pass the message to Asa, and so forth."

Masayoshi turned to Nemuri, who had dark circles around his eyes, and whispered in his ear: “The Earth is flat.”

Nemuri nodded, turned to Asa, and whispered: “I want to bed.”

The message made the circle until the last student, bespectacled Akira, whispered to Masayoshi: “The Earth is round.”

“Tell us, Masayoshi,” said the Master, “What was your message?”

“The Earth is flat, Master,” said Masayoshi.

“And what message did Akira pass to you? Had it changed beyond recognition?”

“No, Master,” said Masayoshi. “It was the same.”

Further Reading

Stay informed of new posts?

Sign up below and you will receive a weekly digest of new posts.

If you change your mind, you can unsubscribe at any time. You will not be spammed, and we will keep your email address private.

Article index