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Words, Meaning and Response: Commonality and Rationality in Society

December 29, 2012

How much we actually listen to? And are we listening primarily to the words or paying attention to body language, connotation and social circumstance?

Reaction and response are a tell tale sign. For instance, if you answer a question like ‘Are you feeling better?’ with a no, but add a positive rising connotation and cheerful attitude to it, people stumble over their response. You can see their confusion as they begin responding. I’ve experienced people respond as though I answered yes, only then questioning whether or not I was or was not feeling better.

Clearly communication is based on more than words, where contradictory actions within what we say, how we say it and the situational frame we’re in lend importance. With being sick, there is no reason to answer negatively, feeling under the weather is unfortunate, but not too bad and will soon pass. It also always helps to be positive.

Why do people begin to auto-respond to body language and connotation beyond the meaning of words? Scientific communications studies prove body language indeed speaks loudly, but we’ve also been trained to respond to circumstantial social triggers–expected codes of conduct and rules of engagement with each other that shape communication.

These rules lead to instances where communication isn’t central to interaction at all.

On the trail of a recent hike, whenever passing fellow hikers something along the lines of ‘how are you?’ would be followed with ‘how’s it goin’?’ And that was that. The actual meaning of the words means nothing, we could have muttered any words in the same pitch of a friendly ‘how are you’ and gotten the same meaningless response. Meaningless, maybe not–it appears pleasantries during a hike are socially accepted as any gesture. I’m sure you’ve had this experience in varied settings.

Crossing paths with strangers going opposite directions on a hiking trail is not necessarily the best place to stop and lend an ear, but I’d like to speculate on its implications because it’s a result of patterned thought mixed with default action. It lacks attention, creativity and connection–arguably three areas society is struggling to benefit from.

Society faults for the same reason communication does–default response to expected actions learned via a social paradigm de-emphasizing individual will and attentive communication, not to mention input and task overload forcing one to prioritize and ration our attention.

It’s nobody’s fault and I’m not telling you to genuinely stop and engage thoroughly with everyone you encounter, but it benefits us individually and as a society to slow down and ruminate on matters of this subject.

In essence, to question why things are as they are and if they actually make sense. Although seemingly insignificant, this fundamental questioning is essential to our time and leads to audacious breakthroughs in thought. We are entering an age of ideas, if not already there. Break default. It’s fun, beneficial and necessary.

Question, question, question and discover wonders of self, others and world. Mingle between what is common, cultural expectation and what is intuitive and felt, asking what’s right, what’s wrong and what, how and where change can and should be initiated.

Any ideas?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 29, 2012 10:20 pm

    Yes, it’s about connecting, whether it be with words, tone of voice, the eyes, or facial and bodily expressions. Sometimes I discover connections almost beyond these conscious actions/reactions, just a sense I may get—nothing of the woo-woo sort, but definitely as human beings, the animal nature of ours. This was an interesting post, and I appreciate the questioning mind coupled with the intuitive nature. Tapping in to everything that is present at the time is truly connecting.

    • December 30, 2012 12:46 am

      Thanks for reading and leaving insight, eM. It’s great to hear your connective experiences, and I resonate with ‘beyond conscious’ connection. Sometimes you meet someone for the first time and get a sense of who they are as person almost instantly or feel a mutual level of connectivity that transcends anything that articulation or reason can justify. I enjoy meandering along your journeys–keep connecting.

  2. December 30, 2012 4:34 pm

    Every once in a while, I try to truly answer the question “how are you today” coming from, say, a cashier. I find it leads to interesting conversations, improving on what is otherwise a boring transaction. I just hope I’m not getting the cashiers at the grocery store in trouble by increasing the “transaction times”!

    • December 30, 2012 6:12 pm

      You raise a good point–that many people do want to interact more wholly, and benefit from doing so, as interesting conversations arise, connections are made and acquaintances are met, but we are led to do otherwise. The ‘transaction time’ registers are a prime example. Some companies have timers on their registers and after a brief period of time they buzz, you get in trouble–not sure what happens–but they are there to ‘speed things up.’ Get in, get out, be on your way. I think we would all benefit from a slowed pace, just need the environment to support it.

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