I know. I know. It’s been a while since my last post. Apologies for those who may have been waiting for a new post. It hasn’t been easy moving from one place to the other, leaving an old job for a new job, and so on. But I am back! Although I can’t promise (not even to myself) that I would be updating my blog as frequently as I may want, I will try my best to keep up with the requests on the topics and ideas about which you would like to see my writing. More than anything else, it’s embarrassing that I have not been able to complete the “100 days of writing” mission in a year as planned.
Well, that’s life. One thing that I know for sure is my own writing style and pace: It’s difficult for me to stick to a weekly schedule (although I will try to make it a habit) but whenever I have good ideas to write something about I could go 6-7 hours in a roll just writing one post after another. So, do bare with me.
This morning, I got up with some thoughts about what make me who I am. It could have a been a result of a difficult conversation I had with someone about whom I cared so dearly. That thought, though begun with how a seemingly caring conversation could go so wrong, had eventually led me to my thinking about what could I have done to change the situation.
About a decade ago, I have set the goal in life to not chase after money or fame, but after things that would give me the total feeling of contentment with my life. I had come to the realization that I could live a good anonymous life with subsistent-leveled income (seriously, I have tried it). The possession of too much money and fame violates both the principles of minimalism and nonism (about which I had discussed also in this blog). One of the way to feel content with my life, to me, is to thinking constantly about a social engineering program that would make everyone turn inward to introspect the need of their inner self, rather than what they “think they need” as a result of the society’s telling them what to do through peer pressure.
I have, then, come to realize that two of the root causes of the problems we have in the world today are miscommunication and illogical thinking. These two factors constitute about 50% each for all the problems we have in the world today. My argument is simple: we could live in a much better world if we can solve these two problems. I am determined to dedicate the rest of my life of solving these two problems. This blog post, however, is dedicated to discussing the first problem only. I promise that I’ll write more in my next post about the power of logic as the way to combat logical thinking.
Why do people fail to communicate?
As many philosophers, linguists, and thinkers have reminded us, our thought process is often both intertwined and non-linear. The problem we have with the verbal language is, then, that it forces us to communicate our thoughts through the non-intertwined and linear system. In other words, language always simplifies our thoughts. And it’s also true that language constraints thoughts (i.e., what linguists call Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis): We cannot possibly conceive any complicated matters without having the language as a system to connect the strings of words to make sense of our own thoughts, as a lens through which one could see the layout of our own idea, and finally as a tool by which one can construct a meaningful thought process. For example, when we think of anything that we may want, the essential pronoun “I” appears in your thought process, e.g., “I want that,” and “I need that.” The verbs that follow — want and need — are essential elements in the process of putting words in a string so that you could communicate your idea , first to yourself, and then to others by demanding or requesting that they’d provide you with what you “need” or “want.”In other words, we need the “I” to be there as a conscious marker of our desire to construct a meaning that underpins our egotistical and, even, our biological needs. Most of the time, the subject + verb construction is followed either by an object or a conjunction; for instance, “I want water because I am thirsty.” Can you give me an answer of why you’re reading this blog post right now without thinking in terms of language? Can you answer me this question without using any nouns, pronouns, verbs, and adjectives? We think with words. We need words to think. Your brain is always going and it’s estimated that we say between 300 – 1,000 words to ourselves per minute. That is, we need language to think, and the limitation of our vocabulary is also the limitation on how effective we are in putting our thoughts into comprehensible strings of words.
The trouble with language is no picnic. You may have witnessed people who were talking about the same things but could not come to a conclusion that they did. You may have seen people who loved each other to death but their relationship ceases to continue to exist because they were not able to communicate their love in the way acceptable to the other person. A classic case: You may have heard how people get upset about how they think the other person has a view on things that were “too simplistic.” True, it’s may often the case that “that someone” may have a simplistic view on things. But most of the time, I believe, it’s not just that. To me, nothing is that simplistic. Even when we want it to be so, unfortunately, what constitutes our “view on things” are our experience, upbringing, education, and so on. So, even on things about which we feel absolutely sure, they are often, if not always, an exception.
Why is that? — Because our thoughts are way more complicated than the ability of languages to communicate them (well, some languages may do a better job in conveying the subtlety of the ideas, but that’s a topic for another post). First, the language we know doesn’t do justice to our thoughts. Second, we think that something sounds “simplistic to us” owing to the fact that our brains, for the same reason as in why we couldn’t put complicated thoughts into words, are often hostile toward strings of words that are too complicated. So, we tend to be more receptive, rather, to simple prose. But we are also hostile to simplicity because we are living in the world in which simplicity as such could induce misunderstanding, violence, racism, and other forms of discrimination; hence, we human beings are often caught in the middle: While we may want to communicate our true ideas, we are also not very receptive to complicated strings of words. The result is that we don’t get the full meaning of other’s ideas because the corporeal limit to how much a non-intertwined and linear expression of the strings of words could make you absorb all the meanings.
A classic case: You may have heard how people get upset about how they think the other person has a view on things that were “too simplistic.” True, it’s may often the case that “that someone” may have a simplistic view on things. But most of the time, I believe, it’s not just that. To me, nothing is that simplistic. Even when we want it to be so, unfortunately, what constitutes our “view on things” are our experience, upbringing, education, and so on. So, even on things about which we feel absolutely sure, they are often, if not always, an exception, as in “I hate XXX but I would accept it if there’s YYY involved.” What’s the meaning of “hate” (a dictionary definition: feel intense or passionate dislike for someone or something) then if an exception can be hate?
I used to think that many people have simplistic ideas because they’re incapable of seeing all dimensions of the problems or situations. But most of the time, as I have been taught in my training as a linguistic anthropologist, we tend to think that something sounds simplistic simply because the message that we receive is linear and non-intertwined, hence leaving out many of the important messages. The absence of those messages that did not make the cut is what make us feel as though such message is not as comprehensible as it should or could be. So, as an anthropologist, I have learned to overcome this particular prejudice against something that may sound, when I first hear them, simplistic. Over time, I have become much more sensitive to those “messages that did not make the cut.” What are the core ideas of those messages that have been intentionally left out owing to the inability of the language to convey all of them and still stay meaningful and understandable?
Our brains are hostile toward something that is too complicated and tend to be more receptive, rather, to simplicity. But we wouldn’t need language if we are only to communicate simplicity. We need language because we need to communicate with other human beings more than just the information regarding our biological needs. We think something is simplistic because of language, by nature, suppresses the full thought to convey. The linear and non-intertwined nature expressed through a string of words that we utter to communicate ideas often fails to convey our comprehensive ideas to others. People usually either hear what they want to hear (because our brains love to take the meaning simplistically) or do not have the patience for complicated thoughts carried through the lumping together of a complicated set of strings of words put together. What we have left here is miscommunication.
In the perfect world, each of us would take, as the most important goal in life, the learning of how to communicate with others with precision, brevity, and respect, holding to heart the sincere goal of benefitting everyone engaging in the conversation. In the perfect world, intentional ridiculing of others and the failure to listen would be considered impolite and outlawed. In the perfect world, we would have all the time and patience to pay attention to each other. Unfortunately, we are not living in that world. We’re living in the world full of strangers (especially those living in cities). We’re living in the world in which we deal with different sets of interest. We’re living in the world that urges us to protect our own right to be individual and egotistical rather than give other people the benefit of the doubt. The problem gets worse when we also deal with translation from the one language to the other. You get the point.
This was the whole premise of my writing about the Herzfeld’s Rules (both Part 1 and Part 2 are available on this blog). I believe that changing the world isn’t that difficult — as we can eliminate almost 50% of the problems we have in the world today by our becoming better communicators who communicate to get the true points across and not to ridicule your counterpart or to show off that you happen to know what they do not know.
Even if becoming a better communicator doesn’t change the world, it would change your life. It would make your life easier and better. The conversation I had with this person that I care so much about broke down half way because this person did not understand any of the “logical processes” behind the norm of communication as I have described here. This person got mad at me by the message this person had heard only half-way, misunderstood my message by this person’s own problem with the comprehension of the nuances of language (as, unfortunately, English was neither of ours mother tongue although I had written elsewhere that this shouldn’t matter much), and got disappointed by this person’s own ability to understand my intention altogether. I could only feel sorry for this person, and this is why I would like to address the second factor through which we could change the world — logical thinking — by the power of logic, which is the topic of my next post.