I’ve been writing letters to our local paper and articles for my blog for some time. However, all that pales in comparison to countless conversations with many people over many years. When you converse with and/or get written feedback from intelligent people on the ideas that you’re expressing, it can lead one to have to refine one’s communications. That’s a good thing.
One thing which over the years I have had to face repeatedly in my communications, and which I often see in the communications of others, are the instances in which, by design or default, a person makes an all encompassing statement which, in it’s breadth, renders the statement inaccurate, untrue. One often sees this in cases in which someone is angry about something, or purposely trying to sway the opinion of an already biased audience. The thing about the heat of emotion is that it often abates in the presence of objective (coolheaded) thought. This can be good if the goal is to find rational resolution to problematic issues, or, possibly not considered a good thing if the goal is to incite thoughtless anger.
One clue that what is being communicated is not based in reality, often is the use of the words “all”, “no”, “always” or “never”. Or statements which clearly imply the use of those words, even if the words themselves are not present. This is particularly true when the topic has to do with human traits, characteristics, and/or behaviors. For example, and I am going to jump right in with a loaded example, if I write that all men are emotionally shallow, cruel people, I, unfortunately, may be accurate about some men, but because I include the word “all”, my statement is untrue. The same is true if I omit the world “all” and simply say that men are emotionally shallow, cruel people. The implication is clear that I am referring to all men. But if I state that some men are emotionally shallow, cruel people, that is a statement which is defendable, true and accurate. This same principle is at work if I make the statement that no men are shallow, cruel people. At this point some reading this are probably going, yeah, been there, done that. Some are possibly considering this information for the first time.
The difference this adjustment in our communication, and our thinking, can make in the world is tremendous. We human beings are complex beings and, in our complexity, sweeping statements trying to characterize genders or races, referring to deficits or strengths in any particular area of our thinking and/or behavior, are seldom, if ever, accurate. This is the case no matter the gender or skin color of the people being referred to.
So the next time you’re arguing with a friend, or your spouse, or getting ready to deliver a characterization of a particular person or group of people, please give some thought as to whether or not what you’re about to say, or write, is actually, literally accurate/true. Sometimes doing this can lead us to realize that we are not correct in our initial thinking/perception. Sometimes that can be a very good, comforting thing. And it is always going to put us a step closer to resolving issues, reaching agreements. It is a positive thing if we aren’t inciting defensiveness and hurting feelings by mischaracterizing those we’ve found ourselves in a problematic situation with.