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Knowing As We Are Known – The Six People In Every Conversation

Communication breakdowns happen everywhere in life: at home, at work, even on vacation. One of the reasons for this is that what someone says and what the other person hears a lot of times are different. Part of it is because who we think we are is different than the person talking to us thinks we are, and consequently, reads things into what we say based upon their different interpretation of us.

Another part of this communication breakdown is that we only “know in part”.  At any given time, with our limited human faculties, even enhanced by supercomputer technologies at times we simply cannot know everything involved. At best we try to determine what the relevant things are with a particular issue but even that is subject to our own personal biases and limited experience.

Three Blind Men and an Elephant

There is a parable that is repeated in churches in every place I’ve lived as well as that I’ve heard on TV.  It is the story of three blind men and elephant. It goes something like this, although there are varying numbers of men describing various parts of the animal in the different versions that I’ve heard.

Three blind men are walking and they run across this elephant and the first one says the second, “What is this?” The second answers, “Well, it’s round and thick and goes up and down, it must be a tree.” He was touching the leg. The third one jumps in, “No, it’s flexible and strong, it must be a rope.” He was touching the tail. The first one responds, “You are both wrong, it’s flat and smooth, and it feels muddy, someone must’ve put a wall across the road.” He was touching the side of the elephant.

Finally, the sighted man comes along, and corrects them all. He simply tells them, “you all are touching the same thing; you are all touching an elephant!” Of course, the blind men are amazed.

The point of the parable is that all the blind men, of course, made reasonable deductions based on their experiences, but, of course, all the men were wrong. It was only the man that had the perspective of the entire object that had it right.

Of course, we want to think that we are the man with the sight. But no one on earth has the complete picture. Every one of us down here is partially blind:

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1Cor 13:12

This verse says that there will come a glorious day when we will no longer walking in the darkly lit paths of this world, but we will be living in a reality where we will genuinely know fully and completely.  The expression used is to know as we are known.

So while we have the hope that at that great future time we are going to have this enhanced perception to really understand what is going on, the reality is that now, here on Earth, we simply can’t understand what’s going on that well.

Know as we are known?

Dalton Kehoe is a senior Scholar of Communications at York University as well a senior partner is a consulting firm dedicated to improving communication in organizations.  Professor Kehoe teaches a class called “Effective Communication Skills”[i] and dedicates a significant part of the class to helping students understand what goes on in them in order for communication to happen effectively, and why so much of our communication is ineffective.

Professor Kehoe points out that most conversation is nonverbal even to the point where occasionally we have conversations that have no words in them at all.  In fact, I am sure you can remember a lot of nonverbal communications you have had when someone gave you a look that you completely understood without a word.

Meanings of Words

Second, there is a problem with words. The problem is that they have multiple meanings often, and unless you are very careful you will miss the right meaning. For examples, look at the words “charge”, “set”, “make”, “stand”, and “read” in the dictionary. Each of these common words has numerous meanings. Or, look at the word “rock”.  If I say “he was rocking” do I mean that he was using a rocking chair, singing in a rock band, doing a great job or something else?

Professor  Kehoe points out that meanings of words can vary greatly from person to person.  In fact, he quotes David Berlo:

“Meanings are in people, not in words.” David Berlo

This saying refers to the fact that words really mean what each individual person takes it to mean in communication. This is important to realize because so often we think that the words we are saying are clear, not understanding that the person looking at us may have different meanings for some of the words that we are saying.

Reality is that words mean different things to different people at times. How can this be? The color “red” must be the same for everyone, isn’t it? Let’s use that example. Frank and Mary are married. Frank tells Mary that he’d like red to be the color of their new car. Because they’re both so busy and they both agree what model they want Mary trusts Frank just to go pick out the car. He drives up in the car, and instant disapproval flashes onto Mary’s face. Frank says, “What’s wrong?” Mary says, “When you said red I didn’t realize you were going to get something that bright. I thought you meant the red like the wine red on your father’s car.” Frank says, “No, I always wanted a bright red car. This is candy apple red. I love it, don’t you?”  See the point?

The above example just uses a color. Think about the differences that people have when they try to communicate things like the love, trust, faith, and spirit.

When someone talks about love they may be defining love as more of a feeling whereas another person may be defining it as a commitment to another person, and a third person may be defining it as the the parental instinct to care for her young children.

From this we can see that just saying a word does not necessarily communicate what you think it means, it communicates more what the other person defines the word to be. If we don’t know what that other person defines that word to be we could be expressing something totally different from what we intended, despite our best intentions.

The Six People in a Conversation

Professor Kehoe talks about how what we previously may have considered to be a simple two person communication is in reality interaction of six different people. How can that be? Because the truth is that you have a perception of who you are (one), who you are is different from whom you project yourself to be (two), and is also different from the other person’s perception of who you are (three).  Then there is the other person’s understanding of themselves (four), which is different from who they project themselves to be (five), which can be radically different from whom you perceive them to be (six).

For example, let’s look at a couple who is struggling in their relationship. Harry thinks of himself as a loving, caring guy who is also often just a little tired and needs to get more rest (one). What Harry projects because of his “little” tiredness is a cranky guy (two). Because one of the things that is uppermost in her mind is the remembrance of Harry having been out of work for 18 months only a few years ago Kelly perceives Harry as a cranky guy who is too selfish about his own needs and is also lazy (three).   Kelly perceives herself to be a loving and caring person with a great need to be recognized for her ideas (four). What Kelly projects because of her need for recognition is someone that’s pushy (five). Harry perceives Kelly as someone that is only concerned for their own agenda, and won’t listen(6).

When Harry and Kelly have a conversation all of these perceptions are in play besides all the verbal and nonverbal cues they give at the time, and add to that their relationship history. Both people think of themselves as good, hard-working, well-intentioned people. Both have real issues with the other person. Each person’s history; every communication, every event, every relationship, everything in their lives has brought them to the point to where they are now and is a factor in their communication.

This illustrates the difference between how each of us in a single relationship perceives ourselves versus how we are known to the other person in the relationship.

The Scope of the Problem Worldwide

Now, multiply those differences in perception by the number of people who have any idea, however remote, about Harry or Kelly. Because the sum of all those perceptions is how Harry or Kelly is known.

How We Are Known Is Way More Than Our Reputation

Reputation is defined as the common way that people think about someone or something.  Because it is so difficult to really know someone you just met a common thing to do is to seek out other people who know this person and get a sense of their reputation.  If 100 people know somebody, and the general opinion is that he’s a good guy, it’s a safer bet. Likewise if someone has a reputation for being a crook, we all want to take advantage of that knowledge.

But, of course, the problem is that reputations are not always reliable either. Bernie Madoff had a great reputation, which he manipulated into building the huge Ponzi scheme that robbed so many people.

On the other hand there are good people who wind up being scapegoats or whose reputations aren’t good because of misunderstanding or even malicious gossip. Or perhaps they did do something wrong years ago and they matured but people have never given them a chance after that.  Maybe it is a combination of these factors.

How we are known, then, is way more than just our reputation. A better example than the reputation of Bernie Madoff is the version determined by the detectives who investigated Bernie Madoff.  After an exhaustive search of Bernie’s history and dealings they had a much better idea of who Bernie really was.

But even that body of work is still not what it means in the verse above. How we are known is not a summary, it is an exhaustive compilation of all there is to know.

The Caveat in Communication

In talking about effective communication Professor Kehoe taught one more very important observation:  People punctuate the flow of talk to serve themselves.  Others do it.  We do it.  We emphasize the facts that present us the way we want to be seen and de-emphacize or omit the facts that don’t present us the way we want.  Even people who think they are “perfectly honest” do it.

The Speed of Judgment

Another important factor Professor Kehoe points out is the alarming reality that people make snap judgments in communication as a rule. When people are talking to each other at a good clip there simply isn’t time to weigh everything involved with every statement and so people make decisions, judgments, conclusions all too quickly. You can see this at work when somebody gets a bad reputation because of the “rumor mill.” One person talks to another and says some negative thing about a person and the receiver of that communication really doesn’t have time to investigated fully but makes a snap judgment that that person being talking about is “bad” or not to be trusted. Then the second person communicates to a third, and then a fourth, and so forth and somebody has a bad reputation basically because of snap judgments based on communications that were not well thought out.

Lessons Abound

Hopefully there are several things that we can glean from this lesson. First, we have a great hope. We have all hope of walking in an eternity with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And in that eternity we also have a relationship with others where there are no misunderstandings.

Secondly, we can take heed of the wisdom of how we do not know as we are known and use it to modify our response to others. This can help us become closer to people and communicate effectively and lovingly. We can seek to see the six different people involved in every conversation and relationship. We can look to see how much differently we project ourselves from who we really are. We can look to see how people perceive us differently from whom we really are. We can look to see how differently people perceive themselves to be and how they project themselves and how differently that is from what we held as our perception of them.

To answer before listening– that is folly and shame. Prov 18:13 NIV

We need to listen when people speak, and listen to the whole person, not just the person we have perceived them to be or the person they might negatively be projecting.

In the here and now it is important that we realize that communication is a process of exchanges and adjustments to our perceptions as we get closer to learning who the other person is and the other person doing the same.  Either person not willing to do this for whatever reason is blocking the process. This process is done differently by everyone.

Even if the other person is not willing, you can improve yourself and your life by recognizing what is going on and learning who you and others really are and how that differs from whom is projected and how we all are perceived.   We can start by watching how we talk about ourselves and stop manipulating the details to present us in a better light.   On the other side, we can stop being too down on ourselves when that is appropriate too.

 


October 7th, 2014 Posted by | Miscellaneous | no comments

Science Now Saying Humans Are not Born as Blank Slates

Leslie Stahl opens a segment of 60 Minutes with the question, “Are human beings inherently good, are we born with a sense of morality, or do we arrive at blank slates waiting for the world to teach us right from wrong? Or could it be worse? Do we start out nasty, selfish devils who need our parents, teachers, and religions to whip us into shape?”[i]

Paul Bloom, in an article in the New York Times, dated May 5, 2010, and entitled The Moral Life of Babies, says “From Sigmund Freud to Jean Piaget to Lawrence Kohlberg, psychologists have long argued that we begin life as amoral animals.”

That viewpoint appears to be changing in the scientific community.

Calling this issue being “at the center of one of the greatest, philosophical, moral, and religious debate about the nature of man”, Stahl talks about studies done at the Infant Cognition Center at Yale University, directed by Karen Wynn, and lead authored by Kiley Hamlin. They devised a very simple experiment to determine whether or not infants could make value judgments.  And, amazingly, these infants, these tiny, weak, new little blobs of flesh that could not walk, talk, or do much more than lift their heads watched a little morality play of sorts where two stuffed animals were displayed doing behaviors, one kind, and one mean.  And when asked which of the stuffed animals the children like, for the most part they chose the kind one. Wynn said in the piece that this preference to prefer kind and nice individuals over mean individuals was demonstrated in study after study in the literature on the topic.

If you want to find out how they managed to do all this with infants, you should really watch the segment, its fascinating.

In the piece, Paul Bloom, author cited above, carries the conclusion a step further. He says that this preference for liking the nice puppet over the mean puppet shows a case that people are built with a built-in morality. He goes on to say there appears that babies are born with a “subtle knowledge”, and an innate “sophistication”.   He further says that he thinks that there is a “universal moral core that all humans share.”

But Stahl asks the important question, if babies are all born innately good, where does evil come from?  In another study, where babies were given the choice of Cheerios or graham crackers they were able to show that babies liked puppets that chose the same food as they did.  The conclusion was that humans, even as infants, instinctually prefer others who have similar likes and dislikes.   In their study, in fact, they concluded that 87% of the babies went so far as to want the puppets that weren’t similar to them punished.

The conclusion of the scientists involved in these studies is that the dark side of this innate morality is to want dissimilar people punished, that we have a bias that is deep to the point of violence.  And that it is up to society, and especially parents, to intervene.

In another study, again another morality study, but this time involving older children, kids were asked to make an interesting choice. They could either, A) choose a higher amount of rewards that would be given equally to themselves and another child, or B) they could choose to receive a smaller amount that would also mean that the another child would even get less than them.  This is so very interesting: the children did not choose to get the larger amount for both themselves and the other person. For the most part, they chose to get a lesser amount, as long as it was more than the other person. What an interesting comment on human nature.  We are born with this evil.

However, this behavior changed as the children aged. The study found that around eight years old, the children showed more and more to accept the option that gave both of them more, and in equal amounts.

And, by nine or ten years old the trend had completely reversed. More and more the child would choose an option that even gave the other child more.  The conclusion here is that society has educated these kids to the point where they become generous.

The admonition, however, is that the infant tendency to be selfish, wanting more for your self, and the tendency to be biased, choosing to like people like you and “hate” people unlike you never really goes away.  They advise that when people are under pressure they revert to these baser instincts.   Thus we have some scientific insight on how people do bad things, develop bad habits, get addictions, treat people badly, and perhaps routinely lie, cheat and/or steal.

The final conclusion of the study is that the old paradigm that people are born a blank slate is a myth.  They say that kids are born with both “good” and “evil” instincts.

Thousands of years ago the apostle Paul wrote some very interesting words that have a striking similarity to what these scientists have discovered.  Paul writes about how people have both the desire to do good and the desire to do evil in them. He calls it a battle. It is the battle of the spirit versus the flesh:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.  (Romans 7:14-25 ESV)

“Sold under sin” refers back to the original sin of Eve and Adam and means that this is a condition that we are born with, and thus we have these competing urges that produce good and evil. Paul says that it is the power of Jesus Christ that delivers us and guides us in society to make a good choice.

So in the 21st-century science has finally come to the conclusion that people are not born blank slates, but with the urge to do both good and evil, and that it is up to society, including the role of religion, to help train people to make the good choice.

Paul wrote about it thousands of years ago.   This is just another reason why  it is important to not get overly excited at whatever science is currently teaching, and to be mindful of the wisdom of the ages.



[i] 60 Minutes (television program), original air date: 7/28/2013, the segment named Morality In Infants

July 30th, 2013 Posted by | Miscellaneous | no comments

Fear Not, Be at Peace

Fearlessness is not the absence of conflict; actually that is the definition of peace.  But you can be peaceful on the inside while all kinds of turmoil are happening on the outside.

The Boston Marathon Response was an inspiring example of what it means to act fearlessly and have inner peace in face in a literally explosive situation.  People acted calmly and lovingly in spite of devastation and the threat of more explosions.  People were in the aftermath of bombings, yet inwardly were able to focus on the loving response.

There are many streams of thought that we can have in those terrifying situations.  We can focus on the destruction and the threat of more destruction.  That is giving in to terror.  Or we can focus on the good, the right, the loving.  That is cultivating peace in the midst of turmoil.

The Bible mentions both fear and peace hundreds of times each.  Jesus, angels, and others all exhorted to “Fear Not”!

When Jesus was born, the angel opened with “Fear Not”!

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  (Luke 2:10 ESV)

In Luke 12, where Jesus was teaching thousands, he said this:

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:29-32 ESV)

Paul wrote to Timothy:

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7 ESV)

This last verse actually sets up quite a contrast.  On the one hand you have fear, and on the other, power, love, and self-control.  That is what I saw in watching the Boston Marathon Response; in the face of fear – people acting with power, love, and self-control.

Fearing not, acting calmly in the face of battle is a theme throughout the Bible.  Look at this prophecy of exactly that to Israel in the Book of Deuteronomy:

 “Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them,”  (Deuteronomy 20:3 ESV)

The eternal mission of Christ is the sending of the spirit to all that will receive to enable people to have peace and help us overcome fear.  Jesus said:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.  (John 14:26-27 ESV)

©copyright 2013 Mark W. Smith, all rights reserved.

 

April 18th, 2013 Posted by | Miscellaneous | no comments