NOT TO FLIP YOUR ASSUMPTIONS THINKING THEY ARE “THE TRUTH”
Austin, Texas—Everyone once in a while needs to make the long, slow descent down our ivory towers; after all, it’s less painful than being pushed from the top by someone else. Having someone standing on your fingers to get you to let go is not a pleasant scenario.
The other day I was watching a movie where one of the characters talked about a principle for life, because he could see that a younger man was thinking he “was all that.” Or as my dad used to say, ‘he has the big head.’ The line went this way: “A man who thinks he is bigger than everyone else needs to go to the cemetery. Cemeteries show us what life is really like. Each one of us is a handful of dirt.”
Ever noticed how often we as a species get a vital piece of knowledge totally turned around. We develop theories, assumptions, opinions and biases about something, and we think to ourselves, ‘Wow, this is the truth; this is an accurate fact,’ and before we know it we’ve flipped our own ideas into a distortion of what we think is a true fact. Every piece of anecdotal data and information must fit within our newly generated opinion of reality. Generally, arguments and conflicts emerge when two people or two groups are skirmishing about their opinions or beliefs, and are talking past each other not with each other. If they could begin to talk with others on the basis of scientific fact and research, this might decrease the conflict in the neighborhood and on the planet.
Another communication process is called the dialogue process developed by David Bohm. It isn’t easy to do, but it yields some good outcomes. We are asked to temporarily suspend judgment with the main goal of listening at a deeper level—to the person behind the mask, listening between the lines, listening to a heart not just a word. Although all of us have our own assumptions, we are asked to withhold them and use a variety of listening styles that reframe, help us to listen empathically to others, and paraphrasing their feelings and statements. At the end of the day, a group may come to a deeper understanding of their personal and community values.
Take a cookie and hold it up for others to see. What is this? Most people would reply, “It’s a cookie.” The interesting aspect of observation, listening, and diminishing conflict is that other cultures have different names for “cookie.” In England they say “tea biscuit,” and other cultures have different words for “cookie.” Conflicts usually start when someone asks, “What is it really?” As humans we love certainty, and this kind of thinking plays into what the ego loves more than anything else it seems. Many arguments between significant others seem to be over trivial things—the source of the argument is ego and switching opinions for accurate scientific logic. The paraphrase of the ego’s need is that the ego ‘thinks it is bigger than everyone else.’
William Pemberton is a consultant in Psychology whose specialty is Conflict Resolution. The diagram I want to show you came as a result of Pemberton’s research and was found in a paper delivered to the Second Conference on General Semantics, Washington University, St. Louis, MO, June 12, 1954. Don’t get freaked by the date—General Semantics changes with time and context and new, interdisciplinary research. GS has a known given: not so much change thinging, but thinging changing. Words don’t mean—people do.
Pemberton describes a defensive posture in communication as crisis talk. Other, more sane, mature, and scientific language tends to assist us in making sure that we move from a “process of life orientation,” scientific and observable, description, non-verbal expressions, assumptions, and larger, more general abstractions. Using the above diagram, we may get a better glimpse of how we “evaluate our evaluations.”
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