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Counselling, listening & social identity

When we communicate, we share our selves: our view on life; our beliefs, concerns and priorities; what matters most to us at that moment. And, doing so, we’re probably also highlighting our blind spots, struggles and fundamental assumptions about existence. Surely when we speak, in putting our thoughts into words, we are revealing how we see things and where we stand.

But current frameworks of communication often present this as a forum for self-expression, for insisting others share your views, for establishing a brand or tribe. All that, to me, seems destined for conflict and division: it’s using that space of communality for spotlighting the self, waging battle in the realm of ideas, and strengthening some while excluding others (see Notes One).

It’s undoubtedly a different way of approaching people. Are conversations places to be heard, to share thoughts, broaden awareness and learn about those things we may not yet have encountered; or places to be feared where we must protect ourselves from judgements, attacks and attempts to reshape us?

I guess it boils down to ways knowledge tends to be limited, partial and imperfect. By the fact of our existence we’ve grown up within a culture, a family, a society; absorbing their lessons, drawing our own conclusions, choosing a path within what’s presented to us. Of course, that experience will be limited and our understanding likely to contain many unexamined, possibly mistaken, attitudes we’ve not yet brought under scrutiny.

Within that, does it help if we cannot use communication to expand our awareness? If our understanding’s pretty much guaranteed to be limited, while society itself is becoming this incredibly rich place where all the diversity of life can now rub shoulders and pool insights, then surely having the right model for relating to one another emerges as something quite important (Notes Two).

Listening and offering feedback have presumably always been personally and socially valuable. How else are we going to understand fully if we cannot run our ideas past others and receive respectful, considerate correction should it be required? If we just hold to our ideas, defending but refusing to examine them, where does that leave us?

Because the way experiences inform ideas, both those essentially shaping our identity – that sense of self we then defend and build our social life around – raises interesting questions around the value of communication and how we might ‘help each other out’ of whatever limitations we may have (Notes Three).

Notions of counsel, consulting others and seeking advice, then present themselves in a new light. The authority of cultural tradition may once have served to guide people, offering a clear voice and standards for living. Now, we might have little more than complete freedom, resistance to anyone limiting it, and the desire only for a reasonably coherent inner storyline to live by.

And, having only managed to sketch out these ideas, I’ll likely revisit this at some point; because it seems questions of communication, healing and understanding might well be fruitful to re-examine.

Notes and References:

Note 1: How arguments avoid issues
Note 1: The way to be
Note 2: Listening, tolerance & communication
Note 2: Mirrors we offer one another
Note 2: “People Skills”
Note 3: Is anything obvious to someone who doesn’t know?
Note 3: Dealing with imperfection

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