"I have no time to wonder who is reading me." ~Faulkner
My mentor--Kristhoffer--made a similar argument to me over the years, telling me that no matter how well I write, I cannot control how people will misinterpret my work. That no matter what, some people will always get carried away and mutate my meaning, and I just have to deal with that because I will not be there physically to correct their interpretation. As a writer I hate this advice because I want to write clear enough for any reader to understand, but ultimately he is right--they both are--I cannot control what people bring to the table when they read my work so I cannot control what interpretation they bring away from the table.
The Self is the wild card in our engagements because it brings in our unique experience of reality, which is comprised of our inner thoughts & feelings and outer physical interactions. I am not saying this to relativize our every engagement, yet to show that the quote is not just some egotistical rant about not having time to think about who is reading our work. Hemingway knew people were going to interpret his work in their own nuanced way, so he figured he would write toward his audience, though for himself.
So what does this mean? Are we bound to conversationally flail and only connect with others via accidentally? Not at all. Hemingway came up with a very simple solution, which involved positing a lack of control over others and routing all energies into his creative process, but that was limiting because it only applied to writers. As we know, the inability to fully control another extends beyond writing, so although Hemingway developed a great insight about humanity in general, his solution was wanting. This is why I find Kristhoffer's treatment of this issue more effective, because it provides an insightful cycle allowing anyone with a brain to prevent interpersonal nihilism, or the fatalistic belief that because we cannot control how others will interpret us, we cannot arrive at a common meaning and understanding.
This cycle has three general steps, which are honed and developed each time we fulfill them. I say that because the point is not to be perfect on the first go-around, but to improve with practice so that we can become better at interacting with others over time, or in other words, not letting our affairs spiral into chaos, bullying, relativism, or apathy.
The first thing we need to do is dilate our world by relaxing the impulsive filters we apply to things. We do this through specifically identifying what is in our control and what is out of our control. This is not something that only applies to special activities. It applies to everything we do: When we brush your teeth in the morning, we can control how much toothpaste we put on the brush as well as our technique, but we cannot completely prevent a cavity from developing. When we go grocery shopping, we can control what is on our list and how much we will spend, but we cannot control the inventory of the store, or how long the lines are. Or parking spaces available. Get it? Identifying what is in our control and what is out of control in our daily, domestic lives calibrates our mental compass toward reality, making us check ourselves against reality, rather than dictating reality based on what we want.
This first step does not only apply to outward domestic activities though, it applies to our faculty of language. Yes, this may take a long time, but if we are going to maximize our clarity, both in thought and in spoken word, we inevitably need to focus on the way we give shape to our inner ideals, and communicate. Language is about nuance. Ask yourself, "Why did I choose to say it that way?" Or, "Why did I choose that one word instead of that other word?" You may not always have an answer, but this questioning process inhibits the strong locomotive force of confirmation bias that is so easy to get caught up in once it gets rolling. Inspecting the language we use in our moments allows us to understand our thought processes outside of the physical activities. So this first step has both an inward movement and an outward movement, both geared toward slowing down our impulsive or compulsive thoughts and behaviors.
The second step is strikingly simple, but the reason it comes after the first is because our minds need to have built up somewhat of an objective self-check ability to identify categories distinctly and be alright with not being the center of every affair. In other words, without being objective, this step is not capable of being fulfilled, despite its simplicity.
Identify a causal linkage. What this means is that we need to identify a multiplicity, or network of causes and effects. This whole step is worthless if you stop at two causes or effects. Isaiah Berlin explains this masterfully in his book The Crooked Timber of Humanity by exposing how history is a densely branched network instead of a simple ladder. This insight directly applies to causes and effects because history is literally a network of causes and effects. In causality, there is not one thing that attributed to one action, nor is there one product of that one thing. So the labels cause and effect are not concrete, they are simply directional models; flexible tags, if you will. For example, if your car's engine blows on the highway, it was caused by how you drove, what oil you put it in, the wear of the parts, the behavior of the previous owners, if there were any, the atmospheric conditions, and more factors. But it also caused other drivers on the highway to compensate for your vehicle's breakdown, which effected the rest of their day and possibly week. If you made it late to work because of it, someone else's life had to shift, etc. It is the Butterfly Effect. Point is, causes and effects are fluid, so if we want to understand basic causes and effects in our conversations with others (which helps bring meaning instead of fostering shallow platitudes or placing blame or bullying), we need to get on board with taking responsibility and identifying them in our daily personal lives. This is why normal, everyday life is excellent training for our more demanding, intimate affairs.
The last step of the cycle is judgment, and it is last for good reason. It is so easy to think we are being thinking people when we are really being opinionated bullies. I have written a bit on judgment because this step is really what colors our lives. Do you lace up your shoes instead of walking with them untied? Either way, you judged that. Do you prefer to eat food, or to let yourself starve? Either way, you judged that. Enjoy having sex with others? Whether you participate or not, you judged that. Judgment is in essence a deliberate choice arrived by comparing and contrasting multiple things. Judgment is indeed about quality, however quality is not always subjective (feelings, moods, affects, tones, etc.). Judgments of quality can be objective if we embrace a multiplicity of things, investigate how functional they are, if they are short-term lived or long-term lived, or any question not making the Self the center of the affair. There are many excellent objective questions to ask when investigating quality, which is actually redundant because objectivity is open-ended and by definition embraces a myriad of non Self-centered questions. Subjectivity, on the other hand, is based in confirmation bias and doesn't ask open questions. Sidebar: Severe relativists believe that if another does not conform to their subjective beliefs or ways of doing things, there is no reason to interact at all. Talk about egotistical. So in order to judge well, we need to welcome evidence, which is why the soundest judgments are produced by the largest amount of evidence.
Clearly Kristhoffer has a more complex way of avoiding relativism and apathy (aka nihilism) in our daily affairs, yet his approach--although challenging--is available to any and everyone with a will to embrace conflict and come to a resolution with others whom you cannot control. It is true, life would be so much simpler if we could control others, but the reality is that we cannot, which is why the previous cycle is significant because it forces us as individuals to put our ducks in a row, or in other words, take care of our own faculties and affairs. In challenging ourselves to engage objective cycles likes this, we increase the probability of being understood within shared moments because our non-Self centered world becomes bigger.
Clear communication and connection is therefore not impossible, but it is indeed challenging considering we do not have a hive mentality and people do not "just know" what we are thinking or saying. Our Selves are individuals, but that does not mean they are ordered, practical, or consistent. I will not lie about this or soften this truth. So instead of avoiding interpersonal conflict due to an inability to control what others think or how they will interpret us, reorienting ourselves to objectify our own abilities and capacities with insightful cycles like the one listed above will help avoid an interpretive nihilism that seems to be sweeping across not just the literary world, but the interpersonal world.
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