As a self-proclaimed “Guru of Negativity” one of my primary areas of interest and study has been, of course, the modern human communicator. And by using the term “communicator” I mean, of course, those who flap their gums creating a great wind. This is also sometimes known as a “giant sucking sound.” By the year 2012 ears had become obsolete as the art of listening had fallen on deaf ears. Or something like that.
As I pondered the notion that we had become a nation of assholes, I was eventually granted the gift of awareness. Abandoning the art of listening is a critical ingredient to becoming a great asshole. In fact, when one learns to stop listening that may be the pivotal moment of assholiness.
Tom’s Law #42
Assholes are persons where self-image exceeds reality.
Ever the optimist, I decided that necessity was a mother that needed nursing. Or something like that. So, in a fit of inventiveness, I hit the drawing boards on a quest to invent something capable of saving humanity.
The syllable gu means shadows
The syllable ru, he who disperses them,
Because of the power to disperse darkness
the guru is thus named.
— Advayataraka Upanishad 14—18, verse 5
The time had come to put my guru powers to good use. And I’m glad to say that I answered the call.
I call my latest invention: Trinary Listening.
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How me-oriented are we as communicators? Allow me to introduce my newest creation. I’m calling it the “unrequited dangle.”
I’ll start with a real life example. This actually happened. I shit you not.
Person A: Someone very close to me died yesterday.
Person B: Did you see my new shoes? What do you think?
One person is feeling vulnerable and shares a delicate thought. They dangle the bait hoping to catch a sincere moment of intimacy. I guess. I mean, why else say something like that?
The other person may actually care about the speaker. It’s unclear from this example. Let’s go out on a limb and assume that they do. (The alternative is that they are merely a pure selfish asshole and, although likely, isn’t particularly useful to the point at hand that I’m trying to make.) Assuming the person actually cares, what just happened?
Their “me bubble” was so powerful that the pain and hurt of the other person did not penetrate. It simply bounced off. This me-oriented communicator is literally unaware of the message that was sent in their direction. In strict technical terms, communication did not take place.
My daily life is replete with these moments of unrequited dangles. Granted, most of these happen with people who are flaming assholes, but some are sincere friends and the assumption is that they actually care. What then? These damaged communicators aren’t even aware of what they do.
My wife and her friend are both really good cooks. They recently put out a seven-course meal for some friends. It was an evening of small plates complete with wine pairings. The way she told the story to me it sounded like an episode of Top Chef. Each dish was brought out, described along with the wine pairing.
As people who know my wife learned of this, an unintended science experiment was the result. In three separate cases, my wife was approached and asked about the seven-course evening.
In one case, she was only able to describe one dish, the first, before that prompted the person asking to interrupt and launch into a grand telling of a story of her own. That person never thought, at any point, to ever return to what my wife had to say. Score: 1 out of 7.
The second experience was similar, except my wife was able to describe three courses before the same thing happened. Score: 3 out of 7.
Now, here’s the wacky part. The third experience was with a gerbil. This young person is a friend of our son’s and has frequently graced the pages of this blog. He asked about the dinner and … get this … he listened as my wife described them all. All! Mothafucka! Score: 7 out of 7.
This gerbil, who figured prominently in The Adventure of the Raspberry Bar (still unsolved!), who has lived at home since graduating high school, who has a medical marijuana card and is on food stamps and has never held down a job – he was the only one willing to allow another human being the courtesy of relating the whole story when asked. My wife’s so-called friends came up woefully short.
Final score: 10 out of 21. That’s a scientifically-computed listening rate of less than 50 percent. Conclusion: Humans are doomed.
We all think we’re the center of the universe – and we treat each other just like that. Truth be told, however, we’re not quite as important as we like to think. Not by a long shot.
I had an out of body experience recently and found myself surfing the Huffington Post religion section. Say what?
Don’t worry. This post goes downhill from that. 🙂
So, yeah. While I was there I found this video about listening. At first I thought it was touchy-feeling mumbo jumbo of the sort I would normally sneer all over, but I gave it a listen and I think she makes some damn good points. She approaches and communicates the subject matter in a way I wish I could – only without curse words and using actual intelligence and sensitivity.
My problem, I guess, is that I’m too busy wanting to punch in the face of asshole communicators to take the time to explain things this way. So I’ll leave it to her.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t fall for all of this hook, line and sinker, but I can’t help but think the world would be a better place if us human beings stopped being such selfish assholes and practiced the long-forgotten art of listening.
Who the fuck is this “other” of which she speaks? I like to call it “someone besides your own fucking self, you asshole.” But that’s just me. I have the gift of translation which I often use to put things in layman’s terms. In other words, there are people out there, other than yourself, who may also occasionally want to get in a word edgewise, so shut yer fucking blowhole and give ’em a chance once in a while.
The video is only two minutes long. Do you feel lucky? Well? Do ya punk?
WordPress didn’t make it easy to embed a Huffington Post video here. So pay a little respect and absorb this shit, k?Vodpod videos no longer available.
Who doesn’t love a healthy dose of intercourse? I know I do.
But before proceeding further, perhaps we’d better define things a bit. Possible (and germane to this posting) definitions of the word include:
(noun) exchange especially of thoughts or feelings
(noun) communication and actions between people
For the purposes of this discussion we will disregard other definitions. (Minds out of the gutter, people!)
Sadly, these days, true intercourse is such a rare thing I feel like we’ve all taken a vow of interpersonal celibacy.
So what is “communication?” Don’t answer too quickly. The question is just a bit trickier than it seems.
Ask that question of any member of genus Modern Homo Sapiens and you’ll likely get an answer like this: “Communication is when I speak and you listen.” Note the implied message here: The reverse is not automatically true.
What I learned in college is that “communication” requires four essential components:
- Sender (shown above as “emisor”)
- Receiver (shown as “destination”)
- Message (shown as “content”)
- Medium (shown as “form”)
“Medium” is the method of transmitting a message. It could be sound waves traveling from my mouth to your ear. It could be an electrical signal connecting two telephones across the country. Or it could be something like a computer disc.
The point here is that, as far as communication is concerned, all four of those components are vital. If any single component is missing then communication cannot take place.
The model depicted above, it turns out, is incorrect. Like a lot of theories, our understanding can change over time. The modern era has proven the old model of communication to be insufficient and outdated. The time has come to revise our theories.
Generation Y may be the most “bombarded” in history. Baby boomers and Generation X mainly had to deal with television. But Gen Y is faced with omnipresent cell phones, texting, the internet, and a constant barrage of new media that is close to infringing on their brains in a continually 24/7 assault.
Think 24/7 is a bit of hyperbole? An exaggeration? Think again. A 2010 poll by the Pew Research Group found that two-thirds of American adults have slept with their phones on or right next to their beds. And that number jumps to over 90% in the 18 to 29 age group.
That is an amazing poll! I would argue that never before in the history of civilization has a generation taken adopted such a completely new behavior so universally and in such a short period of time.
It used to be that self-expression was limited to entertainers and authors. The vast majority of the public limited themselves to expression in the form of tshirts and bumper sticker.
These days, the soap box has gotten immensely bigger and the world a whole lot smaller. The internet has made “publishers” out of us all. We went from a culture of consumers to a society of producers at light speed. Now we all can have our own video channels, recording studios, art galleries, photo exhibits, blogs and even interactive social networking where we are rated, respected, judged and admired based on how many “followers” and “friends” we have garnered.
In other words, there has been an intense paradigm shift. No longer do we merely and passively absorb content that is beamed in our direction. Now we actively create it.
To put it in a slightly different perspective, it is now about the “me” more than ever before.
And this is exactly where communication has taken a hit.
Your typical modern human being is so busy generating “me-based” content, that this activity has essentially formed a new and unforeseen barrier in the outdated communication model. I have dubbed this discovery the “Me-Barrier.”
This Me-Barrier is so intense and invasive, it can actually block the communication process. An excellent analogy is a person with lips flapping so loudly that their ears can no longer hear other sounds.
Gen Y, absorbed in their own culture, and raised within it since birth, is completely unaware of the Me-Barrier. They see other persons as nothing more than mirrors to be used only to seek their own reflections. Their awareness is limited to social “pinging” which exists solely to see if the other person is talking about or responding to them. If not, the person is deemed irrelevant and the person either resumes transmission of me-based content or begins searching for a new audience. In either case, the acceptance of outside input and stimuli does not take place. There is no communication.
To put all of this in context, you can look for and identify this phenomenon and Me-Barrier in daily life. Do you know someone who loves to tell stories about themselves in excruciating detail but won’t ever listen to anyone else? Do you know someone who interrupts whenever anyone speaks or attempts to join in a conversation? If so, you have just successfully identified the Me-Barrier.
Once you know how to look for it, you’ll notice that the Me-Barriers are more plentiful than you could have ever possibly imagined.
In my own personal experience, I happen to be one member of a three-person team at my job. Two members have extremely developed Me-Barriers. These function much like the guns in the movie Ghostbusters where it was strongly admonished, “Never cross the streams!” When Me-Barriers come into contact with each other, the sparks can really fly!
I can only sit back and clinically observe as these two people interrupt each other then begin an escalation in the form of vocalizations that get increasingly loud. It only takes a few microseconds for them both to be yelling over the top of the other and neither of them are listening. It is truly a sight to see. (And hear.)
Normally, identifying the problem is the first step towards working for a solution. In this case, however, I sadly see no way out. Our culture, our society, and even our entire country is at risk, due to the Me-Barrier and it’s powerful interruption of the flow of knowledge. Soon we’ll be left with nothing but drooling idiots talking to ourselves.
This is my “I” post for the April 2011 “A to Z Blogging Challenge.”
Boss: “Look at that! We sold two of the XJ-21’s today!”
And they say interpersonal relationships don’t mean much any more. Ha!
You ever met anyone like this? Someone who wants you to hang on every word they say, especially about the excruciating minutia of their day, while they simultaneously take a verbal dump on you every time you speak?
Boss: “Tom, what do you think about adding the XJ-21’s to our web site?”
Me: “Actually, I’ve been working on a template that will…”
Boss: “Cause I think we could sell a few, if only they were up there. Know what I mean?”
Me: “Uh, yeah. Whatever.”
Perhaps the funniest aspect of all of this is how the boss never seems to notice when I’ve checked out of the conversation. I just shut my fuckin’ trap, stare off into space, turn my back on him and return to my computer. Whatever. Whatever!!!
Yep. Hilarious. It’s friggin’ a barrel of laughs to be minimized as a person and stomped on every fucking time you open your mouth. Let’s put on our thinking caps. Do you think there is any possible way treating people like that will have consequences? Think it will encourage them to be the most enthusiastic member of your team? To proactively go out and do things for you? To care about what you have to say when the shoe is on the other foot? Foster bitterness? Loathing? Spite?
Both of the examples above are typical at my job. At no point does anyone ever come back and say, “Eh? Your wife? In urgent care? What’s up with that?” Nope. In one ear and out the other and never to be thought of again, unless, of course, you’re dumb enough to make a second attempt. But I’m usually so fried there is little chance of that.
So yeah, like I alluded to in a recent post, my #1 overriding goal, my prime directive, my mission in life every single time I haul my sorry ass into work is clear and present and always on my mind as I try to go about my duties:
Don’t speak. Don’t attempt to engage enemies in conversation. Speaking only serves to embolden office combatants and facilitates the exchange of power from those who actually care to those who are fucking assholes.
It’s a very worthy goal. One I prostrate myself to continually all day long. I strive to keep it the foremost thing on my mind as I do my job. Even so, I’m only human, so failure is inevitable.
In some ways, it’s more important how you grapple with that failure than striving to meet the goal in the first place. After all, as something that can’t actually be achieved, a goal is little more than a mechanism to getting to your special place. And, at least for me, lovingly embracing failure with self-flagellation is the key.
At last! Only after sweet failure can you come face to face with the one and only persona that will never interrupt or fail to listen. That is, of course, your inner persona. A persona that will truly embrace your thoughts of failure. It’s a persona that’s always there for you.
“Your hubris is especially delicious when it rots.”
“What made you think they’d take interest in that?”
“Why don’t you just offer up your throat next time?”
“You make me sick.”
“Think those bastards give a shit?”
“Please, try that some more. I’m grabbing some popcorn. This will be good!”
Finally, conversations worth having! Even better they don’t have to involve other people who are nothing more than winking assholes.
In the end, the only one you can count on is yourself.
What’s the “take away” here? You have to dig deep to find the goodness, but it’s there. My old friend yin-yang still can be found if we know where to look. The lesson of duality is that if something is especially reaming me out then there must be something else to be learned, too. Right?
It’s like being eviscerated and having your bowels strewn about on the floor in front of you. In that situation you really have two choices. Bitch about the steam or take the opportunity to learn a little something for the future (albeit one that has only a few seconds left).
Instead of bitching about the steam, why not say, “Hey. Thanks for spilling out my entrails. Now I have the chance to practice the art of divination and, just maybe, I can glean my fortune.” Now that’s turning lemons into lemonade!
I guess the flow of a normal workday happens for a reason. It’s the natural order of things. It’s about the daily journey to the place you need to be. You can’t have one without the other. In that respect, I guess the role played by assholes is important after all.