Personal Experiences in Culture Change and Group Dynamics

A bit of background:

I have recently had a falling out with a very socially powerful person in a larger community of people that I had been growing very close with. The situation that triggered falling out was centered around some very deep core beliefs I have about ethics and human interaction as well as the importance of language’s role in limiting the amount of growth and development one is capable of making. It also centered around some very powerful fears that I have that – in certain kinds of circumstances – literally render me speechless and remove huge swaths of agency from me. The responses the other person had hit yet more deep seated fears that have brought my halting forays into social interaction to a grinding halt. Below is part of my processing of this situation and figuring out where I want to go from here.


 

 

I don’t know that I will feel safe again. The following are the only current ways I see myself feeling safe enough in this group to return. I am always open to other ideas, and am keeping my eyes open for inspiration.

 

  1. The person I’m in conflict with feels sustainably safe from me, and/or they go through a change in how they react to people they perceive as threatening. Because,
    • I have been on the receiving end of how they react to feeling threatened, and
      • I do not feel safe around that kind of behavior. I tried. But, as I learned the Tuesday rehearsal after our conversations, I am still utterly terrified when I am (even just socially) around people who have no qualms about responding in those ways and are also antagonistic towards me. To the point where I am really not functional for days afterwards.
      • I don’t have the skillset to defend or protect myself against that kind of behavior in ways that I consider both kind and ethical – and those are both mandatory for me. I have, will, and will continue to remove myself from social groups that put me in the position where my current skillset requires me to choose between safety or my ethics. No matter how wonderful and amazing the people and relationships in the group are. I will continue to interact with the individuals and mourn the loss of the group that sustains and values them and that I had hoped to also build a future with. I will mourn the potential that I saw and the things I wanted to grow with this group, and the lives I might have touched and been touched by but may never meet now. But,
        1. I will not go against my ethics to remain safely in this group.
          • I do recognize that this is hitting a deeper sense of morality in me, and I am learning more about the particular flavor of ethics that I seem to be aligning myself with, so that I can become more aware of any contradictions and objections to this value set and make more informed decisions regarding those.
          • I have also started gathering materials and resources in order to more systematically investigate the behaviors I am taking in support of those ethics and their likely effectiveness. Once this investigation is done, I will have a better understanding of the limits of those behaviors, and can add or subtract elements based on how well they support my ethical goals.
        2. I will not do damage to myself, the rest of my life, and the people and relationships in it I have also built things with to remain in the group unsafely. Because that is not respectful to myself or them either.
    • I don’t want to have to spend all my time making sure this person doesn’t see me as a threat.
      • I don’t know if that is even possible or likely any time soon. Over the course of this conflict, I have tried to the best of my ability to openly share and foster understanding on their part as to where I am coming from, what my intentions are, and why I have made the choices I did. I am coming to recognize some of the mistakes I made in applying those communication skills, and I recognize that there were a lot – especially from a hindsight viewpoint. But I’m not confident that I know, understand, or am practiced enough to prevent similar kinds of mistakes from happening again, much less to identify what other kinds of mistakes then become more likely when I do make those improvements. That said,
      • If it did seem to happen, I could probably be convinced to try. It’d be very scary, so I would have to make sure the rest of my life is set up so that those other parts can maintain with minimal-to-no amounts of input from me for the course of the attempt. And it will probably be a longer more gradual attempt, because if these are the circumstances under which I return it will take a while to reach even the level of comfort I had within the first month of joining, much less to get to the level of comfort I had reached prior to all of this going sideways.
  2. I get the skills to be able to protect at least myself (and possibly my immediate family as well – though I think I am the weakest link there) from this kind of behavior and the effects it has on my psyche.
    • I am in the midst of setting up things (using the time that I had previously spent at rehearsals and board meetings, and then some) aimed at pursuing these skills on multiple fronts
      1. I am setting up another round of skills-based therapy to more fully and quickly install some self-care habits that I had been slowly incorporating into my life before.
        • So that I can get feedback and guidance as I expose myself to things that I am afraid of in order to engage in the activities necessary to build the social and communication skills.
        • And also so that my self-care habits will become more practiced and require less bandwidth and be able to weather progressively more difficult life circumstances.
      2. I am trying to spend more time in a couple of different social groups that are focused around physical interaction. The purpose of these are twofold:
        1. doing exposure therapy towards physical touch with a flirtatious or sexual undertone and being able to navigate and communicate and negotiate and build a connection that feels safe and good for everyone without slipping into bunny/deer headspace.
        2. reinforcing my (currently very fragile) belief that people can interact safely and in respectful ways towards each other and their boundaries. Especially when there is physical touch and the possibility of a sexual element to the interaction. And that loud, strident, angry, forceful, violence-alluding-possibly-sliding-into-violent-self-defense OR complete avoidance of one or both are not the only options available to people who want to interact with others in those arenas. And,
      3. I have gamified the social skills development portion. I have joined an actual RPG that is built on the ways people socially interact with each other – a social LARP as opposed to a boffer LARP. It is with a group of people who do not live in the same town as me, and that I have no ties to outside of this game. I intend this to provide me with:
        • a low stakes environment to – again – engage in some exposure therapy regarding larger social groups and the ways that people move in and respond to those dynamics, and
        • practice building the actual skills of communication with people who are coming from a different world-view than I am. Again in a low-stakes environment. (And there are a ton of skills in this arena – I’m at baby level when it comes to large-group dynamics and communication.)
    • I am hoping these pan out. I honestly don’t know how long it will take to get these skills to a level where I could manage myself in the kind of situation that happened. It’s really hard to learn when you’re terrified. And, as much as I had thought and really wanted that to not be the way I react to stuff like this anymore, that’s how I have felt.
  3. There is a culture shift in the choir.
    • I think there are a couple of different elements to this shift.
      1. One seems to revolve around this idea of a binary foundation to the word/thinking that I have heard echoed repeatedly.
        • Because a world that works on this idea of either/or doesn’t have space for me or my experiences in it. And people / groups who work inside that world view have a really hard time seeing/hearing/understanding what I say – even when I use words that we all think are easy to comprehend.
        • And it’s hard to feel safe when you don’t feel seen. No matter how good intentioned the people are in that space – if they can’t see you, if they can’t hear your cries, how can they tell they are hurting you? How can they know what it was and why it had that effect? How can they figure out what ways to act in a kinder fashion if they don’t understand what is and isn’t kind to you?
      2. The other is very much tied to shame and judgement and guilt. It’s tied to the fact that it can be really really hard to separate behavior from people. And that it is sometimes hard for folks to even see why it could be good to do so.
        • It’s very much an attempt to create a community space based on the principles of Brene Brown’s theories. I have found that incorporating these things into my life has been nothing less than transformative, and I want that option to be more visible and available to other people.
        • I also think this is going to be a necessary element to incorporate in order to effectively get many people to be willing to even engage with the idea of to think less in terms of either/or. It’s a key element to fostering growth mindset, and without that I think people tend to wait until huge tragedies happen before they’re willing to consider change.*
    • Honestly, this is a lot of what I had hoped to build and offer up to the choir/community as an option.
      • I see a lot of benefits from the kinds of things that I’m talking about. I also know it is (in some ways) very different than what a lot of folks are used to.
      • At the same time I have also seen what looks like a lot of desire for the kinds of things this offers, and it truly does seem to me to fit what I understand about the community’s underlying values and purpose and goals and the reason the choir was formed and maintained in the way that it has been.
    • I have worries about this one happening, too. Because I don’t see this as a thing that can be done quickly.
      • I know that things like culture change (even if it is a change to something that people are likely to – at least abstractly – get behind) have to be introduced gradually and in safe ways.
      • I know that people need to be able to take the time to look at it and decide whether they want that for themselves or not.
        • And that they then need to learn and absorb and really understand what is changing and why.
        • And then they need time to start incorporating that. To phase out old habits of response and build new ones, and to negotiate how they personally will handle differences between this culture and the other ones they interact with outside of this space.
      • That said, if I do find there is interest, of course I am going to feel motivated to support that. So… we’ll see how that goes.

 

In a lot of ways, what has gone down has been something of a perfect storm. And as such, it is a really unique opportunity as well. And I want to more than survive – I want to thrive. And to me, that definitely means not giving up on this community and the people in it – even if that does require taking the really long game to do so. **

*I would like to spend more time breaking this part down in another post.  Right now, all I have is the idea that:

if the majority of a binary-thinking person’s their prior experiences with this worldview have left them confused and/or feeling like they hurt someone, and they also have a tendancy towards using behavior as an indicator of inherent, fixed traits, I see them either saying “I want to do that / live in that world, but every time I’ve tried to do that I’ve failed so I guess I just can’t” or “I don’t have anything positive associated with those people so why would I want to become one?”

**Yet more doubts that I will need to explore later, that have popped up as I have written this:

and now I’m feeling like a failure again. was I brought here for this person? is this my one chance? is this a codependent/ counter transference thing? is my purpose here more them than the group itself/my personal skill building? god, so codependent. but they would be a huge asset/ally…. but – perfect storm… ahhhh…. I plan to come back with more skills and savvy but they will also be more guarded and are already way above me in skills, and also they may leave at any point when it no longer gives them what they’re getting out of it… ahhhhh…..how do I tell if this is a now-or-never kind of situation????? and once I can tell, is this even the best set of questions to be asking, whether it is or not??

 

How to have a respectful conversation about consent:

1) Recognize that no individual owes you anything.

You are not entitled to access to deep dark secrets or to whatever behavior or interaction you’re trying to negotiate consent for. If another person is involved and you want something from that person, then you have to recognize that that’s theirs to give or not give. And no matter how badly you want it, no matter how badly you may feel you deserve to have good things, no matter how great you think you would treat it or how well it would match you – you are not entitled to it.

You are not entitled to an explanation. The reason why this thing may not be given to you may be good, it may be bad, it may be non-existant. It doesn’t matter. You may never know. You may know and never agree. That changes nothing about what is or isn’t owed to you.

2) Recognize that position matters.

Power is not just an overt threat. It’s anything from “If I say what I mean then this person will not let that go until we have talked about it for a million years” to “If I don’t appear to be accommodating, this person is capable of meting out all kinds of physical violence on me that I would not be able to prevent – and I don’t know them well enough to know if they would actually try” to “If I don’t appear to be accommodating, this person will fire me / socially assassinate my character / act out against me or people close to me”

Each of the examples were different kinds of power, and they have different results. Just because a specific set of results isn’t concerning to you, doesn’t mean that it isn’t very serious for someone else. Just because I may be in a position where losing my job would not be the end of the world, for someone else, all that they have may be built upon that job.

It is actually very common for two people to enter into negotiations with each of them thinking that the other one has the upper hand. Or to feel like the other person has the ability to hurt them in ways they’d rather not be hurt. Even if they don’t feel like they have the ability to hurt anyone. I can be worried about your social pull and what will happen if I antagonize you at the same time that you are worried about my economic pull and what will happen if you antagonize me. We can both be right.

3) Recognize also that perceived position is still relevant to how consent is played out.

Even if I am not capable of getting you fired, if you think I am, you are going to act accordingly. Which means that you are not going to feel empowered to speak every truth you have with equal amounts of safety. It doesn’t matter if I can or can’t get you fired, because you’re still not going to feel safe if you think I can.

The same thing goes for me. If I think you are capable of doing massive amounts of harm to me, I might not even be comfortable thinking about something I think you would be opposed to. Which leads me to

4) Recognizing your own perspectives and boundaries and what it takes for you to feel safe communicating fully and openly.

Even if you are trying your best to create an open space for someone else to feel comfortable sharing, if you are also feeling threatened, there’s a higher-than-average chance that you are not catching the whole of the situation and there’s a better chance that you are sending off signals that may be contributing to the discomfort.

While I don’t think it’s often used in this way – this is what I think “you have to take care of yourself first” is intended address. It’s not about entitlement or looking out for #1 (I don’t care how much you need to blow off steam, you’re still not entitled to use me to do it without my informed consent), it’s about recognizing what boundaries you need to have to feel protected, and communicating that openly so that people who are comfortable with those can then engage with you and share what they need in boundaries.

Only once you and they are able to bring that self knowledge and communication to the interaction, can you find people you are comfortable with in a way that doesn’t involve a high potential for varying degrees of hurt. And only then can you sit down at the table and begin negotiations in earnest.

And yeah, I get that this seems super long and involved and not everyone wants to go through all these hoops just to have a conversation about sexy times that may or may not happen. But I can and will tell you – until I’m blue in the face, if you let me – that by far ALL of my most incredible experiences have come from the situations when I followed this (wittingly or unwittingly) more effectively than not. Interacting with people who are good at this definitely makes it easier, but when I am able to do it it gets way better. For me, the better I am at being able to do the things above and at actually doing them, the better my ecstatic interactions of any sort are.

And, ultimately, while this is a really positive way of framing it, there is actually a lot of ethical weight that I personally assign to this as well. Because, when I sit down and really think about it, I know that if I don’t have that kind of fun in an evening, the chance that I am harmed is low, and the weight of any harm done to me is most likely to be relatively minimal. But if I end up rolling over someone’s boundaries, especially if they are in the soft/grey area, then there is a much higher chance of someone being harmed, and there’s a much higher chance of that harm being stronger. Even if that person being harmed is me*. And when I weigh the benefits of my having those specific kind of fun times with that particular person on that particular occasion against the potential harm that can be caused if I take shortcuts…. well, it just doesn’t seem like a good decision. Which is why I tend to talk about this kind of stuff until I’m blue in the face.

* I very very much believe that it can be incredibly damaging to find out that what you thought was a mutually beneficial and enjoyable encounter was actually an unpleasant, unintentionally difficult, or even terrible experience for the other parties involved. Whether sex was a part of that encounter or not. I have heard stories about these kinds of encounters and I think most people just generally aren’t really happy with that idea. Instead of reacting violently to distance ourselves from that thought, I think it makes more sense to become comfortable with a different way of talking about and getting into those situations that reduces the likelihood that it happens. Really, the successful outcome is more happy fun times with more people enjoying it measurably more. I am having a hard time seeing the problem with that.

One final note:

I find that I still very regularly meet with a lot of resistance to this idea. To even considering this idea. Which is part of why this post is outlining what process I have found and – more basically – why I think it’s important. And I want to be clear that this is the best process that I have been able to come up with as of right now. I am not saying this is the best process there is. I actively welcome hearing about other ways that people try to work towards similar goals, because there is always room for improvement. In fact, I would love for people to actually try this, and then get together and share feedback about what did and didn’t work and why.

But what I really want to see is a shift in what we seem to be prioritizing when we talk about consent. I think it’s important to consider what we are going into these encounters to do. To have a mutually fun time? Or for me to get mine and leave you to get yours – if you can? And I think that if the goal truly is for both to have a fun time, then considering this process is worth it.

And perhaps I should spend more time on the idea that fun isn’t always an option if you don’t feel safe. And that being in a situation where someone’s boundaries were rolled over and it made the situation less fun, can drastically reduce the possibility of future fun.  Especially if there isn’t a language in place that lets us talk about it without turning everyone into either monsters or victims.

Which is why there are two main elements to this: minimize harm, and maximize pleasure. And it’s why – if they were exactly even – I would personally be inclined to weigh minimizing harm higher. I don’t think they are, though. Not by a long shot . But that’s the details for a different post.

Audio Notes from Unstructured Socialization Time

added in while transcribing
was said in recording, removed on transcription

what’s your story? she asked
I blinked
I’m not really good at stories, I replied.

this is not a good answer
this is not the best answer.

she makes a comment about getting the information from the other people there later. part of me is relieved.  Later I wonder if that was intended to be a warning, or an indication that my reply was heard as possibly a threat.

Trying to be transparent, I say I would love to hear what they have to say, if she wanted to ask them now.

When I evaluate this statement in the light of the other possible interpretation, I realize that instead of indicating a willingness to be open, I might instead have just come across as more threatening. Or perhaps just off-putting.

 

The next morning I realized what I should have said was:

“no, really. I’m not good at stories.
have you ever seen the youtube videos of old carl sagan lectures? where he says ‘in order to bake an apple pie, you must first invent the universe’?
well, that’s me. but with words.

In order to tell a story (or a joke, or how my day went) – I must first describe to you the invention of my universe. (The one at that moment, which – by the way – is different from the contextual universe for any other story, joke, answer that one may want later.)”

And I’m not sure how to communicate this fact to people yet. That I am just not on the level of stories yet. I don’t have the story skills. I realize it seems so intuitive and natural to some people. But it doesn’t to me. Mostly on a structure level, but also to some extent in terms of focus.

The thing is – I never really know what it is that people want to know when they ask me that question. I never know what information is most important to them. I think another reply that could be – at least a little bit better than a complete non-answer – would be something like:

why don’t you tell me what values you structure your paradigm, and I will give you information relevant to that.

Why don’t you tell me what values and structure your paradigm has, and I will give you information about that.

Except I think that would be a long process as well. Maybe not as long as me trying to go through, you know, everything that’s popped into my head of my own history. in as chronological an order as possible – which generally isn’t very chronological at all. it starts off somewhere in the distant past and then bounces everywhere as connections are formed and jump out of my mouth before I realize what I’m saying.

Plus not everyone responds well to paradigm-speak. Not everyone talks that language and even those that do are not necessarily interested in sharing that. Just because I love digging into the perception and value structures that inform and undergird people’s choices and construction of identity does not mean that everyone I talk to does as well – or wants to do so with me. Or right then. *sigh*

here are some things I’ve found. at the very least I seem to be up to short sentences level. that’s good. catch phrases. I’m at catch-phrases level. eventually maybe I will get to paragraphs. then maybe entire pages. someday. someday I will have an entire story for you. but right now, here’s all I’ve got:

  • I am easily distracted… Sometimes, I am easily distracted by strong personalities.
  • I like to flirt with the edge.
  • I need to watch and listen. For a while. Because words are hard.
    • I need to…. ok this is actually not a catchphrase, this still needs to be clarified a bit more I think. I need to watch things and language usage and whatnot in a new group. I need to understand the language people are using. Everything is code switching for me.  Or rather, I have yet to encouter a way that people and groups do words that I am not having to constantly and actively translate in my head. (*1)   And even in groups where I’ve been watching the language people are using for a while…
  • It’s often difficult for me to switch from listening mode and talking mode or from observing mode to participating mode. They are two distinct headspaces for me. If I can gradually ramp into the talking/participating mode, then I can get up a great head of steam.
    • but at that point I don’t have a lot of experience sharing.
    • and I want to learn.

and this ties into the other thing I thought of that I could have told her. Which is that I’m a baby top. (Or perhaps, baby switch is more accurate, as I still get great value out of submission and masochism and bottoming, and I still have a lot to learn in those areas. I’ve just been playing in those waters for a while now and the other waters are far more vivid – if for no other reason than that they are very unfamiliar and I am very uncomfortable in them. [Keep in mind that that’s part of the appeal for me – I seek out discomfort. Figuring out what kinds of discomfort serve me and are effective in getting me to where I want to go and which kinds are just destructive (which kind support my growth and which kind hinder it might be another way of putting that) has been and still is a process, but an incredibly valuable one that I have every intention of continuing.] )

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in this lifestyle, in this subculture, doing this stuff… but it’s all pretty much been from the submissive / bottom side. so those are the social roles I am most comfortable with. those are the communicative roles I feel I can be most responsible in. there are people and social groups that pull out….

so if you organize your social world (or your thinking about social groups) this way, then I’m very comfortable in a beta position. high-functioning beta (or maybe “specialist” flavored beta might be a better way to describe it) perhaps, but beta nonetheless. beta that you know can b-be in charge of other people, perhaps (still skill building in this area but I’ve made some decent progress and am at the point where more experience is going to be the most effective way of getting better). but I’m still more comfortable with a guiding hand here. (of course I’m super picky about the hand…)

but there are people that pull up that alpha in me. and I want to be more comfortable in it.

I run into problems because I feel like, sometimes, that alpha place is motivated from a less than flattering part of myself. like, “oh, you’re clearly incompetent. here, let me tell you what to do.”

and I don’t know if it’s actually motivated from that place, or if I just don’t have any other ways of expressing it (even to my own self). because I do very strongly believe in separating behaviors from the person doing them. and I’ve really only become comfortable with the idea of taking on this kind of role since I made that connection in my head – that I can help teach and show people different behavior options and let them decide. Back when I thought of it as more being motivated out of a judgment of a person in their entirety – I didn’t want to be a part of something that spoke “you’re not good enough” to someone. I couldn’t see that being positive enough to be worth some (admittedly heady) sexy times. Framing it this way is the only way I really feel that I can ethically take on a position like that and have the confidence that I’m in the best (and a viable) position to do as little harm as possible. To make sure that I’m not inadvertently reinforcing toxic and destructive narratives without thought. This is part of my being Informed, and part of my being Responsible. I know the power those positions can hold, and I know the subtle nature of shaming language, and how insidious all of that is. I knew it instinctively well before I had the language or knowledge about it, and I wasn’t going to combine those two until I had a better handle on those things. Now that I’ve identified the things that were giving me pause, I can begin to move forward. Of course I’m not going to be perfect, and of course there are a lot of skills that go into being effective at this, but I have an idea of where my ethical boundaries lie and I have a handful of ways to identify when I’m getting close to them. The rest is time and practice. And oh, what fun that promises to be. 🙂

So I’m actually really interested in learning… and exploring… how I might be able to express a more assertive side of myself in a significantly less dickish fashion. b/c the models that I had… left a lot to be desiredNo, that’s not quite right.  It’s that the models that I fall back on, that I understand well enough to do extemporaneously are still those problematic ones.  Because I also have lots of good models and I have for a long time. I think part of the reason I’m drawn to strong tops that I respect is bc I’m still trying to build a data pool for how to act in that situation. that is less dickish than the ones I instinctively revert to when I don’t know what else to do. and when switching to beta /observation mode isn’t an option.

I also just, you know, I want to play in general. except that I do have another big ethical question about that which is… how does one build skills? I mean, I can flog a pillowcase. I just don’t know that I’m getting any feedback from it, and feedback is an essential part of how I learn. Specifically how I learn to apply knowledge to action.

*sigh*

I don’t know what people need to feel safe. I do think that the person who asked that question needed an answer from me to feel safe. Or, more likely, that my lack of answer made them feel something in the emotional family that includes words that can range from uncomfortable to unsafe depending on other factors. and so I feel that I fucked that up a little bit. but that’s the way that it is. there will be times. and we will hang out in similar social events perhaps and I will have maybe… another opportunity to not be weird and to be a bit less reserved and whatnot so that people can maybe get to know a bit about me.

and you know also, the question came late at night. after my meds had worn off and after this very powerful personality had swept in and had given us this… burbling rendition of their dinner that was highly amusing and *see distraction catchphrase above and… *sigh*

and there was lots of signalling going on. these are people who are very socially comfortable. just… throwing information out there and seeing who picks up on what. it’s a skill level that I admire greatly and I do not currently mirror.

I never know how to respond in a situation like that.

I suppose if I were more conscientious or something, I would prepare more ahead of time. except I still never know what to prepare. everything I’ve tried to prepare(*2)  is either a reference to something like a carl sagan video that most people don’t care about or have never heard of, or….  more along the lines of longwinded and incoherent. Like this blog, for example. *grins* 

and that’s really it. the people I really need to prepare most for are the ones that (have different cultural reference points but are similar in other ways, perhaps?) I don’t speak enough of their language to know how to adequately prepare for. I want to learn their language. and in order to that I must hang out with them. so I’m working on that.

(*1) Roles, and how group structure works, I think also falls into this category. Or rather, it’s a prerequisite to really understanding words. I see roles as informing how those words are understood. 

(*2) why yes, virginia, I have in fact googled ‘how to be not-awkward’ and ‘how to be funny’. I do actually have books like “how to listen” and 92 tips and tricks on ‘how to talk to anyone’. when I make the comment that I was a horribly undersocialized puppy – that’s actually less metaphor/joke than most people seem to take it as. I have spent the last several years doing intense accelerated learning. and I someday I’ll be more than happy to show the progress I’ve made to anyone who wants to see just how undersocialized a person can be and still pass as a funcitoning human. just as soon as I figure out how. but I think I need a bit more work first before that’s viable. 🙂

An Attempt at Putting Language to Language and Feelings

Disclaimer:
It has been many, many years since I have studied mathematics, analysis, or anything of the sort. I use language from those arenas and I could well be mis-using terms.  I very much welcome feedback on this! Since my aim here is to be as clear as possible, please feel free to email me or send me a message letting me know of any linguistic, terminological, mathematical, or even metaphorical errors or inconsistencies you see, should you be so inclined. 🙂

 

Our feelings are always there.  They are indicators of significance. We ignore them at our own peril.

Our feelings are the medium through which every other thing we perceive is filtered.  It is the water in which we live and through which we swim. The source of the deep currents that ebb and flow and cause the center of our awareness to drift even when we aren’t actively in motion.

How I see this working (in a mechanical sense):

My feelings influence WHAT I see, even before I form an opinion on it.  Like lighting, my emotional state at the time of perception will highlight some things and cast others in shadow.  I may or may not be aware of what my lighting is. Even if I am cognizant of and familiar with the lighting currently in place, I may or may not have a good model for what its effects are in terms of what it makes easier/harder to see.

This is all the pre-language setup.

At this level there is nothing but sensory input and feelings.  I would go so far as to say that feelings are both a context and an input.  I’d say they are the primary (as in initial) input.  (Inflammation is a word that strangely comes to mind.)  These may actually be two different layers, but they are very close to one another and seem nearly linked.  One informs the other.  And feelings can grow and have layers added to them. They can become more complex in keeping with whatever layer they’re originated in.  Sensory input may also do the same though I’m less sure of that.

Feelings (instincts? chemistry, perhaps?) exist – with or without language.
Sensory input exists – with or without language.
That is the first dimension.

Then comes language. (I see at least two levels to language – more on this later.)  It’s the second contextual layer – the second dimension.

The first level of language (words – both nouns and verbs) allows us to understand sensory input differently.   When this level enters the picture, our engagement with input (of a feeling or sensory nature) doesn’t leave, but is instead modified, deepened.  We can now label our inputs and describe how they move. We can label some emotions too.We can situate them – like a dot or a line – on a graph.

And with those labels come additional associations that we may or may not have noticed before we added the labels.

I see this as a two dimensional situation because language has its own features and also because if I don’t have language for a phenomenon, then my understanding of it seems to remain on the feeling/sensory level.  Furthermore, the language I DO have for an experience will influence how and what I perceive in it. And the language I have for that will in turn influence how and what I feel as a result of that.  So my perceptions are now not just sensory.  They aren’t just the feeling of squinting and turning our face away – they are the mental addition of the idea of “bright!”  They aren’t just the feeling of pores puckering, rising into goosebumps, hairs standing on end, and the periodic shivers rippling across an arm – they are the mental addition of the idea of “cold!” These are base level opinions/interpretations. (*1)

Layer1Language (nouns/labels and verbs/movement) is a key element in the formation of things like opinions, interpretations, understandings.  But it’s not the only element. There is a second layer to the language addition

Layer2Language (grammar) adds a time element to our experiences. I think of it as a third contextual layer – as moving from 2 dimensions to 3.  This is the layer that I think dogs do not have (as always, I’m happy to see evidence I’m wrong about this).  This is the layer that opens up the option of creating stories, although story-literacy is something I consider a skill, and it’s not something that everyone has in equal amounts. Opinions can go up to this level.  In fact they may well be situated here.  Depending on the language I have, they can even grow to be quite complex, when I start layering in multiple encounters and the variety of different feeling and linguistic (L1) environments that I am having these experiences in.

So at the moment we have something that looks something like this:  (I want to move this to a mindmap/fractal illustration at some point because I think it will allow me to clarify further and perhaps identify some inconsistencies or other factors)

Perception (sensory), observation (both static and moving labels), interpretation (meaning within context – emotional/historical…) and opinion (prediction). Remember also that feelings are always a present influence (lighting and camera angle) as well as additional data source (score). And that language is the framework (structure) through which we assign meaning to these inputs and also another context through which we interpret these elements. As is our history (both the outside input history and also how we have perceived and interpreted it in the past and how that has changed).

And, I think that a lot of people end the progression here.  We think this is it and everything can be understood within the contexts listed above.

But the thing about language is, most of us don’t develop one in a vacuum.  In fact, I’d wager that the more solitary we are, the less and less we use or need language. #moreResearchNeeded   But when we learn things from others – when we develop a shared way of interacting, that is not a static thing. As one learns langauge, one learns also the emotions and connotation other people place on those words, those symbols, those turns of phrase, those descriptions, those roles, those stories, those histories.  This is why I can take any word and say it to someone like it’s an insult and if I’m even moderately skilled, it’s likely that person will understand that I have just tried to hurt them. (*2)

Our understanding of language is also informed by who we are getting that information from and what we think of them. What role we see them playing. How we see them fitting into the story we may be building. Just as understandings shift over time as we put them in historical context, they’re also not isolated from our understandings of other people’s perspectives/opinions/etc/etc/etc.  And that’s where narratives come in.

I think of narratives as the social context that all of these things (opinions, perceptions, interpretations, understandings, sensory input, history, language, stories, feelings…) are situated within.

Narratives (the way I am using this word) aren’t individual stories.  (I cannot emphasize this enough.) They’re SHARED stories.  They’re the aggregate, the trends. They’re data analysis, folklore, and fairy tales.  They’re TVTropes.com.  I personally often have a perception, a myriad of feelings, a story, an opinion.  I don’t personally have a narrative. (Unless I think of myself as having many MEs, in which case I may have a culture I think of as “the being others call Kim” and a set of shared narratives within that culture).  My personal stories are situated in relationship to the narratives of all the social groups I have encountered and interacted with and lived within or adjacent to. And the further my story gets from those shared narratives, the less my perception seems to fit any of those shared narratives, the harder it is to see and understand.  Both personally but also for others.

Because here’s a thing I think people forget:  none of these things live in separate containers. They do not grow independently of one another. Instincts, feelings, perceptions, labels, roles/archetypes, stories, narratives… all of these feed into and filter one another. In fact, it seems to me that sensory input (in terms of the actual things outside ourselves that trigger all this) is the ONLY thing that does not continue to grow and shift and drift and expand and contract. We can get many or recurring inputs, and our memories of those inputs do move in those ways. But the thing itself – if recorded properly – remains constant. (*3)

Which is, I think, generally the aim of science / scientific language – to be able to isolate that one single factor in order to understand it.  But to do that effectively (and maybe this is where rationality comes in?) we must be able to see and identify all the other elements that DO move, so that we can get out of our own way.  Science – the art of identifying and isolating the constant in a situation so that we may measure and understand it.  (Rationality – the art of getting out of one’s own way in order to more effectively science/life?)  Expanded out, of course, to as many layers of abstraction as one can effectively get to. #science! #rationality

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(*1) And even these base level interpretations/perceptions/opinions can be wrong.  If I drink a cup of coffee and my heart starts pounding, my brain can (and has) misapplied the label “Fear!” to that sensation.  To which my emotions sometimes respond by shining a spotlight on whatever unfortunate person, thing, sensation, interaction, or thought happens to be most visible at that time.  Enough repetitions of that (add in the grammar layer) – and I have now developed a phobia through clever application of caffeine. The fun part is that, it only takes a few times spotlighting things that are similar and then my brain will start LOOKING for things in the same category and LOOKING for those possible-fear-indicators, creating a self-reinforcing loop off of a few primary experiences.  Maybe that’s because on that level, our brains are really good at seeing what they’re looking for. (Or it might just be that because it is such a deep level it requires much less detail and nuance to form that connection. Maybe it takes less volume of input to convince it and it doesn’t see distinctions that other layers might see. So it sees in less detail and so is broader in application as well as what it considers viable input?)

(*2) Or, on a darker note, if my attempt is on a different contextual level – one where they aren’t supposed to be emotionally hurt but instead socially – then it might serve better to keep them unaware but shift the social spotlight so that the people around them find it easy to connect what I said with insult. The point being the equivalent, however. That the same words can do very different things if a person of skill uses them in context-savvy ways or depending on which contextual level their intended effects lie. Meaning maybe a more high-def observation is required to determine meaning and intent in situations where someone might be communicating on that more nuanced level.

(*3)  In fact, in some ways, this is a much easier point to make with a recorded input. Because even though I record something (say – a musical performance), my perceptions/interpretations of that event shift over time as well. Even on a sensory input level.  For example: I might listen to it in different environments and hear different things. But if I record it with the right equipment, I can see that the acoustics, the pitches, the volume, etc of the recording itself remain the same. I have often found that extensive and periodic review of recorded things tends to return great value to me.

Hello world!

This blog is an attempt to get me writing more often and also part of a larger intention to put my throughts and ideas out there for the purpose of generating conversations and feedback.

What this means:

  • While I will occasionally go through and qualify statements or edit for clarity or structure or whatever else suits my fancy, the posts here are not what I would consider “final draft” level. When I make an absolute-sounding statment, I am doing so because those are the words that came out of my head and onto the computer.  I claim no authority on the Truth (or any number of smaller but highly significant “t”ruths).
  • There may be funky capitalization, or grammar. There will be hashtags all over the place (partly for ease of review or identifying trends or topics, partly just because I’m still learning the art of tagging).  Again, if I begin to edit too much, I will never post anything, and that’s counter to the point of this blog.
  • The level of research behind or underlying support of various ideas that I put out here will vary wildly. This is a place to capture, brainstorm, and engage in conversation. If you have information or knowledge relevant to something I’m saying (especially if your sources clearly indicate something different than what I’m positing) then please – I very much welcome feedback.  I am not so attached to my beliefs that I will not revise them based on new information.

Commenting, etc:
Ideally, I would love this blog to be a place where a lot of great conversations go on about some really cool topics.   That said, I am also very aware that there are some communication styles that I find extremely difficult to hear through. If I become aware of someone using something those styles, I will attempt to communicate that to them as best as I am able. But I don’t intend that communication to be a derailment of whatever conversation was going on at the time.

I don’t intend for this blog (or its comments) to be a place where I am constantly obligated to educate someone on more effective ways of communicating across social barriers. However, I think it serves in everyone’s best interest if we’re actually able to hear what others are saying, so there is a significant amount of time and energy I generally earmark for actions that move the conversational group as a whole closer to that space.  If there are recurring themes or trends, I don’t doubt I’ll end up putting a post up about it at some point, if – for no other reason – to create a space to discuss that topic.

Any screening I do of comments will done with the intention of facilitating and promoting these ideas, and will most likely be reserved for times when my other attempts are ineffective in moving the conversation back into a viable place of interaction on the topic at hand.