Communication

Of the many excuses people have for their relationships failing, the most common seems to be lack of communication. This assumes that the usual “blame something external” drive hasn’t registered and instead of saying that the economy or the patriarchy or the Steelers’ offense caused your relationship with your spouse or boss to go south, you take responsibility. So, in other words, among adults, the most typical excuse for relationship failure.

The reason might have more to do with language and the way we use language than some mystical perception of compatibility or moral turpitude. We live in a culture where, because we look at life through an individualistic lens, opportunism is the rule. That’s fine and all, but of course the language adapts to this; we have euphemisms for everything, we cast a political light to almost every conversation that involves accountability, and blame-shifting is a national sport. Being to obvious about this looks bad, so people have sly ways to direct and re-direct each others’ attention and blame can get passed on without anything resembling a direct accusation of wrongdoing.

The English language has an awful lot of words compared to other languages, and many of them are ostensibly factual but, when examined, very political. Just think about the difference between “Rights”, “Liberties”, “Powers”, “Entitlements”, “Expectations”, and “Prerogatives”. Do these words describe something that’s actually different outside the individual’s perception, or just different attitudes towards the same concept?

Marketers run the West, particularly in the information age.

So, maybe the issue of people having trouble communicating isn’t so much that they don’t talk. People talk plenty. The issue is more likely that they simply have trouble communicating honestly. No one will come out and say, “I demand that you do this”, as it runs too counter to our desire for freedom, so we end up just manipulating and also not understanding what we actually want.

Maybe this isn’t really trouble so much as a simple inability to win a propaganda war, and rearrange relationships into what we want them to be. In a society that refuses to accept hierarchy, the ability to bullshit people into thinking that a subservient position isn’t really a subservient position holds together many relationships that, if discussed honestly, would clearly be damning to one side in some way. So the real question is, should people be honest? Is bullshit the only thing holding together large numbers of productive interactions? And if so, does this say something damning about people’s views on their place in the world?

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4 comments

    1. And there are certainly people who value honestly. But if being honest requires someone to admitting their own shortcomings in contrast to society’s moral standards, will they still do it? In my experience, the answer is, rarely. And that should be expected: we spend a lot of time lawyering in our relationships.

      1. If there is a high level of trust, between two people, then could one share shortcomings in contrast to society’s moral standards?

  1. I don’t think you’re getting what I’m saying here, sorry. You’re talking about society’s moral standards as if they don’t play the largest role in establishing good and bad in the eyes of the individual as well. They do, from the use of a shared language alone. And you’re talking about relationships between two people as if trust were already established and inviolable. No way. Never seen it. Trust has a perpetual shelf life; if the other person is using you, manipulating you, only the purest of slaves tolerates this forever. We don’t. We can’t tolerate someone being 5 minutes late to pick us up for lunch.

    Of course, when we’re the ones running late, the excuses spill forth, every word designed to pull an emotional reaction.

    Tolerating shortcomings out of people is a matter of still believing them to be on your side and still believing they have value. People have different specialties. Covering each other’s various inadequacies and sticking to what we’re good at is how we get economic strength. That’s necessary for a society to function, and you can define a society as two people here if you want. But those relationships are all predicated on people having shared values and principles and rules that are not broken. These bind our identity in the group, and those who violate them are no longer on our side. They can’t be trusted.

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