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What we say & what we mean

Obviously, we live in a world of etiquette – the things we say and don’t say, what we really mean, and the mysterious notion of reading between the lines. Even without factoring in technology or the wonderful diversity of multicultural societies, there’s always this sense of subtext and what’s being communicated through or around our words themselves.

Might it be fostering uncertainty, fear, anxiety? This fact of socially-minded people often not saying what they mean so much as delivering these veiled messages we’re all, somehow, supposed to know to interpret. It could just lead to a place of looking for hidden meaning, imagining potential scenarios, doubting the words themselves as much as our understanding of what might actually be intended.

It’s interesting how such a thing might’ve evolved. It seems to be taught as a social skill, an asset in relating to others: to be mildly, if not wildly, dishonest in order to spare others’ feelings or create some veneer of nicety. Of course, there are undeniably situations where truth might be unpalatable, but any sweeping avoidance of truth doesn’t quite seem such a helpful solution.

How will others know they’re off track if others don’t let them know? How are we supposed to improve relationships or situations if we’re not being given valid information as to the state of them? How are we to find firm ground on which to stand if almost everything we’re told is some form of a lie, designed to control, deflect or shape us in some way? (Notes One)

What is the value of communication if it’s not truthful? What’s the impact on others of truth being hidden or glossed over? What are we missing out on by walking this path? If reality “is what it is” but we’re not reflecting that with our words, what are we doing? Why are we here, on earth, for some reason sending all these contorted reflections of reality to one another? (Notes Two)

Of course, there is such a thing as social awareness: things to let pass unsaid for the sake of politeness; some delineation between private and public, with all the gradations of intimacy or trust between them; the personal and social selves we use to shape how we wish to be seen and the degree of honesty we’ll offer in any given setting. Nuance that, perhaps, amounts to social creativity.

All this, then, boils down to the sense of a social code. Which can presumably only work if we’re using the same one – if we’re in agreement over what it all means – otherwise there’s just a confusion of confidence, paranoia, false certainty or doubt. If we can’t be sure of using the same code, are we wise to rely on any code?

Things being left unsaid must leave so much open to interpretation. Perhaps creating anxiety or, at least, uncertainty over how things stand. Might finding the courage, skill and time to navigate more truthful conversation be worthwhile in terms of clarifying things between us all?

Notes and References:

Note 1: True words, spoken in jest
Note 1: Fear or coercion as motivators
Note 1: Is anything obvious to someone who doesn’t know?
Note 1: Living as an open wound
Note 2: Tone in public dialogue
Note 2: Conversation as revelation
Note 2: Ideas that tie things together
Note 2: Can we manage all-inclusive honesty?
Note 2: The power of understanding

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