I was challenged awhile ago to change the way I communicate; my qualifiers, metaphors, gestures, etc. In other words, change my entire orientation of language. How could it hurt? I think I just wondered what point it would serve. When I think, my meaning is clear, at least to me. Isn't that the case with most people though? Since our meaning is clear in our minds we're led to believe our miscommunications probably don't originate there. If our thoughts were really that clear though, wouldn't we always find the right words for what we mean?
Recalling the most frustrating conversations I've engaged in, they've all been from either having to define the meaning of, or prove the validity of, concepts I viewed as given. These are the basic things that I give cursory recognition because I see them as building blocks to the larger, more significant points. Yet, when critiqued of these smaller components--once I get over feeling unduly nuisanced--I've found that they are more alien than the more "significant" concepts. That's not to say I mastered the more complex ones. Ironically, once the more basic ones were shown to be flawed, the rest of my observation or argument just seemed...irrelevant. It toppled.
Is that where I want to be? Is that where any one of us want to be? I don't think so. I think we at least want the words and sentences that come out of our mouths to have some relevance.
The search for relevance doesn't necessarily have to be ego-based, in that we don't have to strive for attention, or be seen publicly as the best at something, or stack trophies on our mantle to find it in our lives. The relevance that sticks with us is that which is derived from asking (or being asked) the annoying, frustrating questions without prescribing an outcome. Not just dismissing the question or bullshitting our way onto "more significant" matters, but really thinking about those basic givens as if they are the most important thing we'll think about today. Because you know what? They are. They give us an adaptable mental faculty.
Whenever those questions are asked of me (pretty much by one person--my teacher), it puts things in perspective through revealing that no matter the complexity I believe I'm observing, if I refuse to focus on the things I assume, not only will the product of my investigation not be complex or profound, but my ability to actually observe those complex things when presented to me will either be absent or severely stunted.
I've found that struggles with self-relevancy and finding relevant things to say are usually undertaken because we haven't quite acknowledged out what we know or don't know. Since our mental faculty is unpracticed we reach out and try and bring one closer to us. But habits speak louder than words, and if you're trying to hide, they're the first to betray you. Look at what you do, that'll tell you what you believe, what you think you know, and what you value.
Changing the way we speak--our metaphors, our cliches, our examples--jogs our mind, giving us the equivalent of mental shock. It's results can and will vary. However, the whole purpose of shocking our mind is to reveal what we so quickly dismiss on a daily basis. One of my favorite exercises--the "they" exercise--makes you explain who they are each time you use the word. If you keep up with it, it gets boring, not because it has nothing to teach, but because they usually points the finger at some general villain that is not attacking you, nor is capable of defending itself. The exercise shows that they--when used as stereotype--is a myth, despite all the talk about it being a "fact" that blacks rape, and whites can't handle being in power. Admitting our givens aloud often reveals how flimsy they are. Saying them in our heads beefs them up because it's safe in there and no one's asking about their weak spots.
The goal of changing the way we speak isn't to act like someone we're not, but to pick different sets of clauses out of the myriad possible. It's so easy to get set into our comfort zone that we don't realize there's a multitude of ways to say the same thing. Granted, different nuances will have different implications, however the meaning in our heads doesn't have just one way of being revealed. It has many. When we get stuck in our comfort zones we stop believing that to be true. Thinking about the givens and assumptions we make when we speak shouldn't make us feel ashamed or irrelevant, yet empowered because really what's happening is we're cleaning and improving the tools that allow other tools to come into existence.
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