Talking about anything, we open up a conversation that welcomes or excludes others: by the terms we use and attitude with which we approach a subject, we’re establishing terrain people might feel comfortable approaching or defensively in need of self-protection.
In many ways, communication can seem easy: we have words and sentences, ideas of what things mean, how thoughts should flow and people should feel. Isn’t it just a case of ‘getting our views across’? Superimposing our vision to ‘correct’ another’s? Pushing our thinking into other heads using every tool at our disposal (see Notes One).
It’s often what seems to be happening. But don’t ideas generally come from experiences? Understanding having arisen in us as a result of all we’ve been through, whether that’s formal education or life’s more haphazard paths (Notes Two). Conceivably, every thought, belief, attitude and assumption has been handed down to us somehow or another.
And, of course, we can be mistaken. Events can be strung together any number of ways to reach different, sometimes flawed, conclusions. Our chain of reasoning, the meaning or causality we assign each link, can easily go awry.
Beyond our personal understanding, then, ‘is’ there a shared landscape where collective, all-encompassing interpretations might be found? It’s quite a philosophical question: whether there’s an objective view of reality, and the extent to which human minds can grasp it. Thought – ideals, values, principles, intentions – clearly plays an important part in our lives; much as its practical application might often be flawed (Notes Three).
Which, I suppose, is where communicating enters the territory of activism as people seek to improve their world through words and actions: raising awareness; giving voices to seemingly remote realities; articulating how much something matters to them and others. How else will things change?
People standing behind their values can be beautiful – that calm insistence on the importance of a given principle, the resounding power of such self-assurance as the human heart attempts to bring ideals down into reality. But it’s also tough drawing a moral line, because, almost inevitably, you’re placing people on the other side of it.
Managing that may well be the hardest social challenge (Notes Four). Is it possible without just labelling others ‘wrong’? Can we avoid either/or over-simplifications to allow for nuanced complexities, personal and social biographies, convergent and divergent threads; yet still insist on the highest ethical standards?
Lately I’ve admired a few people for striking such a tone. One was this Ellen Page article on using our lives for the good of others, and how growing awareness of society’s shortcomings can lead us to re-evaluate established ways while still remembering “times when I didn’t know all this”. Then, Jedidiah Jenkins on Instagram describing his inner and outer journeys, struggles and revelations in remarkably inclusive, compassionate ways.
Navigating the many challenges of modern life, perhaps we must each find the paths of change for ourselves? But it’s undeniably also a journey we’re taking together, so finding ways to share ideas seems fairly essential.
Notes and References:
Guardian article “Ellen Page: “I’m not afraid to say the truth” by Eva Wiseman, 20 January 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/global/2019/jan/20/ellen-page-im-not-afraid-to-say-the-truth-interview-coming-out
Jedidiah Jenkins on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jedidiahjenkins/?hl=en
Note 1: Pick a side, any side
Note 1: Attempts to influence
Note 2: Seeing, knowing and loving
Note 2: Is anything obvious to someone who doesn’t know?
Note 2: What we know to pass on
Note 3: The philosopher stance
Note 3: Ideas that tie things together
Note 4: Dealing with imperfection
Note 4: Making adjustments