The Way People Talk

I never cease to be amazed at how differently people express themselves. I’m sitting in a Steak & Shake and three highschool or college girls (I can’t tell anymore, which is a sign that I’m getting old) were just seated in the booth opposite me.

One of the girls asked the others,

“Should I get a milkshake? They’re just so fattening.”

After lots of intervening giggling and negotiations,

“I’ll eat some of your fries if you get fries. What burger are you getting? Hee, hee, hee!

Oh, My-lanta-a-a!”

She proceeded to order a double chocolate fudge milkshake!

Granted, highschool girls are almost another race entirely, but still, it has never in my life occurred to me to ask the people I was dining with what I should order. (Upon further eavesdropping I’m guessing they’re highschoolers, but what do I know.) Nor have I ever hesitated to order a milkshake because it was fattening. …Perhaps I should start…

The reason this struck me is that I’ve been contemplating the complexity of communication today. In several different scenarios I’ve been struck by the discord that was wrought by a failure on the part of the participants to lend one another the benefit of the doubt, let alone to try on the other’s shoes for a moment before replying.

When boiled down to its essence one realizes that this is really an issue of pride. Someone refuses to consider the reality that they may be mistaken, and another party refuses to be always ready to learn something new. Subsequently, we want to force the other party to “cooperate”, rather than humbly consider that the view we brought to this conversation may be in need of revision. Whether minor or significant, one won’t know until further reflection, and this can’t happen unless we’ve engaged in humble dialogue.

Here’s another idea. To some degree you just talk the way you talk; you are who you are. A few weeks ago my freshly 6- year-old daughter asked me what DNA was, and I found myself about to reply with an answer that most certainly would not have shed any light on the topic for her. However, I caught myself, tried to put myself in 6-year-old shoes and tried again. So being myself, I would have answered with another set of words she needed to have explained. Thinking of her, I was able to communicate in a way that had meaning for her, rather than meaning to me.

Perhaps it’s a silly example, and in some ways I’m making light of what in reality is a pretty significant issue. But, hopefully I’ve communicated in a way that may mean something to you.  And, if not, well it’s the exercise that is the first step.

3 thoughts on “The Way People Talk

  1. Hello Nate:

    They call this propriospect. I love this word and what it means. You won’t find it yet in the dictionaries, and no I did not make it up. Propriospect is the totality of one’s private, subjective view of the world and its contents developed out of personal experience as it is used to allow communication with others. The key here is how these factors integrate as the launching point for communication. A person’s propriospect will readily lead to a faux pas in such simple arenas as multivalent greeting rubrics. Tonya once reached out to shake an Orthodox rabbi’s hand. Talk about a faux pas!

    Awareness of ones propriospect and its limits opens so many doors. Aside from intrapersonal awareness, benefit of the doubt is also critical.

    Sorry to flood you with this…I figured that you might enjoy it. The psychology of communication is a topic that I enjoy, and I know that you do as well.

    kol tov,
    Peter

  2. While “propriospect” is a new word for me, that concept is exactly what I had in mind. On this occasion I had in mind an attempt to step outside my “propriospect” and communicate in a manner not so natural to my expression.

    How did I do?

  3. Hello Nate!

    I appreciate your call for humble dialogue. We cannot assume the same propriospect of others. Also, our response to a past situation may cause us to uneccesarily solidify our thinking in an unhealthy manner. This then becomes baggage. Humility will allow one to understand his or her own inclines for their relative value.

    I was working on an article on my blog about my six-year old son and the question that he asked me when you posted this story of your six-year old daughter’s question about DNA. My son asked me if God has a body…and yours asked about DNA. Both are fairly abstract questions for minds that otherwise should be in concrete pre-operational level of cognition. I find the timing of these events to be an odd coincidence.

    Also, notice how our propriospects intersect. We are both fathers of six-year old children. Without our six-year-olds we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to share or develop our ideas relative to concrete thinkers. I enjoy this a little too much. There are too many possible antecedants to my last “this,” so I am leaving not identifying any. They all work.

    kol tuv,
    Peter

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