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The Worst Flaw in Human Communication

Photo – suju/Pixabay
Photo – suju/Pixabay

I was arguing about my writing with a friend, and here’s the insight I gathered from that dialog. (Or was it a shouting match?)

The worst flaw in human communication are the knee-jerk, “know-it-all, wise-guy” assumptions we constantly make about other people. In other words, jumping to conclusions.

It’s not just an “everyday sin”, but you might call it an “every-hour (every-minute?) sin”.

“Oh, I know what (s)he means. I know what this person is feeling/thinking, what their needs/desires/intentions are. I know exactly what (s)he’s all about.”

“No, you don’t! You practically never do.”

We’re so unwilling to disrupt our usual patterns of thought – so unwilling to listen to other people, to admit that the truth tends to be more nuanced than our penchant for slapdash categorization and labeling of everything we encounter in life so that it fits our rigid, predetermined patterns of thought.

Even if we’re willing to hear the other person say A, we automatically assume that because of that, B, C, D, E and F must follow. We’re not ready for the possibility that after A, the sequence might surprisingly be Z, Y, X instead.

Least of all are we ready for the possibility that a person might be capable of simultaneously acknowledging the validity of positions A1, A2, A3 and A4 – capable of holding two or more seemingly self-contradictory opinions/beliefs all at once.

No – in the black-and-white world of our ready-made assumptions, an A is an A: a straight, bland A (period!), no further questions asked, and no nuances permitted.

Once a person only says “A”, we instantly shut them up with our well-rehearsed counter-arguments against that bland old A, without letting the other person expand that initial argument of A into the shades, nuances – and only seeming self-contradictions, but in reality, healthy paradoxes – of A1, A2, A3 and A4.

We’re always ready to assume, instantaneously, bad intentions and ill-will behind what the other person says or does. “Oh, yeah, I know what (s)he’s all about!”

Instead, the first prerequisite of any meaningful communication is to always assume good-will on the other side, unless conclusively proven otherwise. (“Conclusively” usually means actions and their real-life consequences – not mere talk or our theories and imaginings of what’s harmful or wholesome.)

Yes, promoters of political correctness, I’m (also) looking at you. Under the guise of requiring “politeness” and “respect”, you in fact stifle free speech and its various, colorful, perhaps at times raucous modes of expression.

So what? If you can’t stand the heat, don’t go to the kitchen.

If someone’s mode of discussion is repulsive to you, just don’t involve yourself in discussions with them. But don’t require them to adapt to your own concept of (faux?) politeness. Let them be, and perhaps they will grow up one day, learning to tone down their language, if they wish for a discussion with you to take place.

But don’t make it a peremptory demand on your part, blaming the other side if their idea of what’s polite/lively/acceptable discourse differs from yours. Don’t say, “It was impossible to talk to them, they were so rude. Anyway, I know what they’re all about!” Nope – you know nothing, unless you’re willing to listen. The onus is on you, always, to listen first.

The ratio between listening and speaking should always be at least 50/50, but ideally, listening, instead of speaking, should take up most of our time.

That’s what’s wrong about the imitations of debates one can see on TV. The goal for those participating in them is the opposite: to speak as much as possible, to dominate the debate, and to shout the other side down.

The lame excuse for that is that the “show’s” (sic!) runtime is limited, so that everyone must rush to get their word in, or otherwise they might not get heard at all. Well, then don’t orchestrate imitations of discussions on your program! Either allow a proper discussion to take place, in which people aim to listen first, or just skip it.

If discussion ceases or never starts, don’t blame the other side. The blame (if it’s necessary to blame anyone) is always shared by both sides.

Nothing appears to be more painful to us than the prospect of having to adjust or (heaven forbid!) abandon our prejudice.

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Alexander Avenarius

Prekladateľ, korektor, tlmočník, učiteľ jazykov, správca serverov. Milovník elektronickej literatúry a mobilných prístrojov (čiže digitálny knihomoľ), študent filozofie a filmov, polyglot, grafoman, hobby-recenzent. Tvorca alternatívneho rozloženia slovenskej klávesnice. Môj alternatívny blog je na adrese extempore.avenarius.sk. Svoje knižné, filmové a iné recenzie posielam – vzhľadom na prehlbujúcu sa nefunkčnosť portálov IMDb a Amazon – aj do blogu AveKritik.com.