Tag Archives: Communication

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An Ancient Heart: Writing to Live

This “Dear Sugar” column at The Rumpus is slick with keen insights into the human condition. The link provided here points to one post in particular in which the question revolves around the usefulness of an English/Creative Writing degree (major or minor) and life after graduation in light of earning that degree. It focuses on the pressure to conform to a workforce oriented world, the way people push you into certain fields you don’t feel compelled to enter, and, finally it gives some insight into how to sidestep this pressure and, instead, embrace life and the choices you have made. It is worth considering.

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Sugar says, “There’s a line by the Italian writer Carlo Levi that I think is apt here: ‘The future has an ancient heart.’ I love it because it expresses with such grace and economy what is certainly true—that who we become is born of who we most primitively are; that we both know and cannot possibly know what it is we’ve yet to make manifest in our lives.”

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Who are we “most primitively?” Is there a sense that there is a self hidden among these roles I inhabit or is who I am always a work-in-progress as I perform these roles? What would the fifth of sixth question in this line of thought be? When Sugar speaks through Levi of “the future” and its “ancient heart,” is there a thread that speaks of that inner voice, the voice that speaks louder or quietly more persistent than one’s many voices? Or, does she mean that we are as we communicate (going back to my Thayerian ways of grasping things)? What is it that we cannot possibly know about ourselves? What is it about ourselves that we will never know? Does the answer lie in learning to ask better questions or seeking more solid answers?

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On The Sightseer’s Mind: The Symbolic Complex Revisited

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I wrote about “The Symbolic Complex” a few years ago in a post entitled, “Walker Percy and the Symbolic Complex.” In no way did this post adequately capture the depth of Percy’s thought, rather it was a hasty and casual attempt to better understand his most potent idea for life-making. The main quotation that I used (from Percy’s Loss of the Creature)  was, “Impossible to see: the thing as it is, has been appropriated by the symbolic complex which has already been formed in the sightseer’s eye (47).”

The Receiver is in Control

In essays and books by communication theorist and executive consultant Lee Thayer, the idea that the receiver of any communication message is always in control of what that message means is spoken about to great lengths. It is not necessarily “the sightseer’s eye,” but rather the sightseer’s way of interpreting what is said or seen or felt or touched or tasted–the sightseer’s mind–that needs to be taken into account. What something means to a person will depend on the ways in which that mind makes meaning. Minds will make the kinds of meaning that they are equipped to make and nothing more, nothing less. In this way, it is important to be mindful of how one is interpreting something and if that way of interpreting is the best possible way of minding that thing.

Appropriation

Percy is right when he says that the raw thing-in-itself is impossible to see and in knowing this did Percy, perhaps come closer to being able to truly “see” the things of the world as they ought to be seen? Was he able to re-appropriate them to useful ends? If the receiver controls how things are interpreted given that receiver’s unique ability to comprehend and make meaning, then everything is at stake when we contemplate the symbolic complex in light of who we are speaking to and how clearly we are able to communicate.

Make Meaning

The world or the things in the world are not meaningful in and of themselves. We make them meaningful as Saint-Exupery reminded us and many echoed before and after him. What Percy is calling for is for us to seek to recover the world, to rescue it from how we habitually interpret it and, in doing so, to come to live in a new world. Practicing new ways of interpreting the familiar is an exercise most worthy of our time. It takes mindful practice and persistence to develop such a way, but what are the consequences? Would they, perhaps, be able to give us a little more control over our own thought and our own destiny? Is it the creators of the world (the purposeful interpreters) that are the ones who are able to interpret the things of the world in new and startling ways? I certainly hope so.

Conventional Wisdoms: An Exercise (#2)

It was a great challenge to think through Lee Thayer’s thoughts on “advice” and knowledge in the previous post (Figuring Out). Today, I would like to tackle his second “Brain Exercise,” and attempt to think through it and make it meaningful to myself and hopefully to you, the reader. The second exercise calls for us to carefully think about the following:

“Conventional wisdoms always and inevitably produce conventional results. This means that if you perceive some problem or opportunity in a conventional way (just because that’s the way your mind works), you will come up with a conventional solution. But high performance, real achievement, is far from being the norm, far from being “conventional.” So the implication is that if you want to achieve extraordinary results, results that are not more or less “average,” then you have to produce those results out of some fairly unconventional wisdoms. … [Often such] perspectives … are counter-intuitive. That is, they run contrary to what most people already believe… always and inevitably …”

What unconventional way(s) could we think through this idea that would lead us to a better, more beneficial way of thinking? What Thayer seems to be saying is that the more conventional your thinking, the more conventional the results will be by virtue of your being limited by the conventional ideas which you use. That is, if you seek change in your organization, and since it comes from the thinkers you have available to you (your “resources”), you best make sure that the wisdoms you are drawing off of are potent enough to lead your thinking in the direction of that desired change. However, if the members of your organization are bounded by a “conventional” way of thinking, then that change itself will be “conventional.” We are limited by our thinking capacities.

Extraordinary (extra-ordinary) results come from one’s ability to think in ways that are not ordinary (conventional). The richer your mind, the richer the results of your thinking. If the stream of thinking in your or your competitor’s organization flows unchecked, then it will be that unchecked flow that will end up drowning your competitive edge. Thinking and questioning in counter-intuitive ways, having capable minds on hand will, on the other hand, provide critical power to your organization’s culture. Perhaps questioning conventionality and the conventions of your organization is the first step toward counter-intuitive problem solving?

In this light, it would seem that questions and the ability to be a superior questioner, in light of your purpose and your ideals (the ideals of your organization), would be a most beneficial skill to develop (is there a more “unconventional” approach that I am overlooking?). That, and perhaps, developing the ability to decipher the useful and provocative wisdoms from the run-of-the-mill ideas that get pushed by the mass business press.

Where would you look for the resources needed to become a skillful unconventional thinker? How does one begin to develop ab-normal strategies for high performance? What thinkers have colonized and influenced your (or your organization’s) mind? Where have they led you thus far? Can one be such a risk-taker in a conventionally-minded organization? What are the risks?

Figuring Out: An Exercise

In a blog post from early 2007, Lee Thayer proposed a series of “brain stretching exercises” meant to getting one’s thinking gears in shape. Today, I will attempt to exercise my brain by tackling one of these exercises. The exercise in question revolves around the idea that, “People can’t figure out what they need to know. People can only figure out what they are personally capable of figuring out. So they seek “advice.” And here a paradox rears its ugly face: If you know the difference between good advice and bad advice, you don’t need advice (Thayer).” The link to the exercise is: here. Let’s dig.

Looking at the first two statements I would ask, what are some differences between what people can figure out (what they are capable of figuring out) and what they “need” to know? Is what you need to know dependent upon what you are trying to know? How capable am I (or, are you) of figuring out what you need to know? Are we, as humans, perpetually stuck in the condition of forever being limited by our own capacities for knowing?

Advice: Is most advice sought because one doesn’t know what one needs to know or doesn’t know where to look so looks to someone else for help? What should one do to maximize the quality of the advice that one gives/receives? Which leads us to the paradox that Thayer suggests: “If you know the difference between good advice and bad advice, you don’t need advice.” What this suggests to me is that it all comes down to your capacity for filtering out what is relevant to your purpose and reason for knowing. That is, if you can recognize good advice from bad advice, then you probably don’t need advice. Is that what Thayer is saying?

Would the capacity to be able to distinguish good from bad advice somehow help one in their competency to be able to better figure out what they are capable of figuring out, thus leading them closer to where they should be?

Perhaps, if you have the ability to distinguish what advice is good/bad for you, then you needn’t seek. In other words, the building of the capacity to distinguish the two, in itself, becomes useful in terms of figuring out what you need to know. Where would you start exercising this capacity? In asking yourself for advice?

To further explore: If a person wants to take a job for a certain company, but, in fearing he doesn’t know everything he should know about that company, seeks advice from others, and then, in hearing the advice rejects the advice, did he actually need the advice in the first place? What benefit was the advice that he received? Had he already decided before even hearing the advice?

The Influence of Each Other

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In his book “Leaders and Leadership: Searching for Wisdom in all the Right Places,” Lee Thayer writes, “Relationships are necessary. You can’t be anyone without first auditioning in front of others. But the influence goes both ways. Other people want you to be who they want you to be. If that is consistent with what you intend to be, then consider yourself the most fortunate person on earth and move on.”

If this is so, then problems most definitely arise when two people are at odds with who they want the other to be in their eyes. In these cases, how do we navigate each other away from the problem? If I want you to acquiesce to my way of seeing things and you want me to acquiesce to your way of seeing things, then we will have a problem. Is the solution simply a matter of one person acquiescing to the other? Or, is this a mis-diagnosis of the problem? Will the fundamental difference (the, perhaps, stubbornness) go away or increase in the changing of oneself?

Relationships between couples seem to be a good example. If one of us wants to go north and the other south and both have compelling reasons for wanting to go their respective ways, then how do we as a couple solve this problem without ending the relationship? How do we compromise? And, say one goes north with the other, getting his/her way, but then becomes adverse to the decision thus blaming the other for proliferating a mood of negativity, it would seem that both lose this game. How could the two resolve this problem? Again, is there something more fundamental that the two are not seeing?

If the couple intends to be together, yet suffers such problems of who the other is (diverging views of each other) then would that mean that they ought to redefine the relationship and their purposes for being together? Other than either redefining each other or acquiescing to one or the other (deferring), what other possible solutions are at hand?

Do relationships fail on the basis of bad performances? Are the most fortunate relationships those who are sharing purposeful performances?

Idle Hands are the Devil’s…

Ambrose Bierce defines “Idleness” as “A model farm where the devil experiments with seeds of new sins and promotes the growth of staple vices”. How does the devil experiment with the creation of “new sins” while we are immersed in the pleasures of our “free time?” Another way to come at the question would be: To what worthy ends do we pursue idleness? The problem with “idleness” is that the more time you spend being idle, the better you become at it and the more you crave it. Hence, it is the perfect breeding ground for the perpetuation of “staple vices.” It is a distraction from work that ought to be done. Oddly, it seems to be this idleness that we crave. To push oneself to the edge of one’s limits through hard labor and suffering is not looked upon as being a good thing. We want the results without the effort. Imagine that you want to learn a foreign language, but before committing to an afternoon of serious study, you decide to watch television. It is a decision like this that promotes the growth of staple vices. Once the seed of a habit is planted, it will grow, it will creep up on you from the inside and overtake you. Can you see the connection between idleness and habits? How about idleness and mediocrity?

Mute Presence: A look at an aphorism by E.M. Cioran

Here is a fifteen minute video that I shot on Vimeo. Recently, I have been using Vimeo as an educational platform and a way to share my thoughts. This video opens up an aphorism by E.M. Cioran and brings in some other thinkers, as well. Is it perfect? No, but it was the best I could do at the time. I hope you can pull something useful out of it. Please ask questions.