Communicoction

Barking through a Fence

Posted in Uncategorized by aintnothingright on March 28, 2010

“How did he get through the fence?”

“Huh? Oh, he barked through it.”

Not what you thought, of course.  It’s quite obvious what you think when you hear the titular sentence: a dog, barking, probably vociferously, on the other side of a picket fence.  You can see him, and hear his barks, but he can’t get to you.

Quite a bit of meaning from such a mundane sentence, no?  You pictured and conjoined a number of concepts and images in with that sentence.  You assumed, foremost – a dog.  No dog is in that sentence.  You include a “bark”, the type of fence, and also importantly, the action the dog was taking.  Was he sticking his head through the fence to bark?  Was he barking as he went “through” the fence?  Most likely, no.  We’ve added connotations, completely subconsciously, to this simple, out of context sentence.

Words are tied to innumerable concepts within a frame of reference that has been constructed for us since the day we were born.  More than images, we also tie feeling, context and belief to words and phrases.

Certainly these cognitive chain reactions help to create an increasingly specified meaning from meagre sentences.  We can afford to speak with brevity with this ability.  Additionally, this allows us to form a blend of image and feeling in our minds, evoked through art of many types: poem, song and narrative.

Yet the negative effects of immediate and subconscious reaction to particular phraseology is the predicate of many problems that plague society, and can cause confusion on a personal level during normal conversation.  “Hot” words such as abortion, insurgent and cyber permeate in the public consciousness and become loaded with connotation.  Yet more mundane, or at least personalized, examples exist.

We are buying a watch for your brother.  You think he should have an elegant watch, but I think it should be manly.  We argue for a bit, until we realize we are arguing for the same thing.  In your mind, you pictured a “manly” watch as a rough-and-tumble heavy watch, yet I pictured it as sophisticated and mature.  I pictured elegant as dainty and feminine, yet you pictured it as sleek and urbane.  Now, I doubt many would consider sophisticated and mature, and sleek and urbane as very different, let alone mutually exclusive.

My point here is we must understand when to remove ourselves from our preconceived attachments to words and phraseology.  I say “remove ourselves” rather than “let go of” because it is a highly active process one must undertaken to overcome these automatic reactions.

When do we “remove ourselves”? During heated debate, when we meet new people, when listening to controversial topics, or several other types of other scenarios where our preconceived connotations are a burden rather than a boon.  Think about what you think about when words are said.  Again, this is a very active process that requires self-awareness. However, in doing so we are better able to construct other’s meaning in our mind (and attack it if we are in debate or argument).  We may also reach agreement and understanding less combatively and onerously.

I’ll leave this topic for now, but be sure I will tackle ambiguity much more in this blog.

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