Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ethics and Actions

“The right act can be identified as the one causing the greatest good and the immoral act as the one impeding it.” (Sahakian, William S. & Sahakian, Mabel Lewis. Ideas of the Great Philosophers. pg 31. Barnes and Noble Books (1993). ISBN 9781566192712)

The concept of ethics should be powerful at all times as we attempt to shape ourselves and the world around us to best fit the situations in which we find ourselves. The ethical solutions we discover will come from a wide base of sources and cannot be confined to what any one source believes to be true, right and proper. And as we grow, shift and change, we must keep in mind that what once seemed to be “safe and profound” may shift in values, causing us to shift in values. This is a lifelong task.

The reason for its importance is simple. We are going to communicate from a shifting platform of awareness to others who will receive the communication from a shifting platform. The reason for the shifting platforms is easy: the more we experience and lean from, the greater the potential changes in all of us. That reminds me of a conversation once reported to me that went something like this.

He said, “Are you sure?”
I said, “Positive!”
He said, “Only fools are positive.”
I said, “Are you sure?”
He said, “Positive!”

One of the important things we spend our early lives learning is our culture. Our culture is taught to us first by mom and then dad and then everybody else around us on a regular basis. After a few years we go to school and suddenly we discover that not everybody does or says the same things. What a shock. Often we assume that the way we do it is correct and the way they do it is wrong. That often leads to problems in a few years.

DeVito definition: “Culture consists of the beliefs, ways of believing and artifacts of a group. By definitions, culture is transmitted through communication and learning rather than genes.”

If we take any of this seriously we should proceed with caution every time we communicate, because even within families where “the same culture” was taught, we find differences. In our modern world we have very dissimilar cultures living and working together all the time. Since we should be looking for ”the greatest good” when we communicate we need as much preparation time as is available.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

So, What's Your Prediction?

There are those that say that we, as a nation, have never come to grips with our own history. We indeed did own and build an economy on the backs of slaves. Later, after a war between the states those slaves were "freed." But, often it is said that because we haven't come to grips with our own history, we can't seem to move past thinking of the decendents of slaves as being inferior and unworthy.

Men and women live together in our nation and according to much that I have been taught over the years, both should be awarded according to the benefits of their efforts equally. Yet, there is a continual problem. woman make 80% of what men make doing the same kind of work. After about a decade women are making 69% of what men make doing the same kind of work.

Let's hope those two assumptions are incorrect, but if they are correct how can we use that information to predict the outcome of a presidential election? Take the first assumption that suggests that as a nation we have not come to grips with our "experiment" with slavery. If these ex-slaves are indeed inferior, why would we vote for one? If we feel badly about how these slaves were treated, why would we give them the power to do unto us what we have done to them? Put another way, if we no longer talk about our past actions and in fact do not wish to admit any complicity in those actions why would we vote for someone that might overturn a culture that was worked well for at least part of our society?

I I really do hope that the second assumption is incorrect about women not being paid what they should be for doing the work they do. But, if that is correct, why would we vote for a woman giving someone we have short changed in a number of ways the power to overturn our culture and possibly reversing the tables?

My guess would be that the outcome of the next presidential election may make it impossible or nearly impossible for an ex-slave or a woman to win. Not because they are incapable of great leadership, but because we aren't certain that we want to follow the leadership of those that might be tempted to get even with us.

Just a thought. What do you think? Please comment.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Nonverbal Communication

“We respond to gestures with an extreme alertness and, one might say, in accordance with an elaborate and secret code that is written nowhere, known by none, and understood by all.” This concept written by Eduard Sapir contains a great deal of truth.

We often respond to people when we are still a considerable distance from them. We say things like: “Hey, do you know who that is?” “What are they doing here?” “Why are police officers walking all around here. Should I be concerned?”

We ask those questions because of a desire/need to know what is happening and the possibility that we might become involved. In spite of the fact that moms and dads are our first and best teachers, we can’t recall any lessons in nonverbal communication but are attempting to make use of it anyway.

We know that we use nonverbal communication all the time, trying to decide where to go and what to do. We too often think that others aren’t making use of nonverbal communication. Our dress, actions and general “isolation” from others indicates that we don’t really think they are using nonverbal communications and making judgments on what to do next based on their interpretations. Those interpretations must be inaccurate.

Those interpretations must be inaccurate because we don’t have enough information to form accurate explanations. We see things, such as a person we suspect doesn’t have enough money to afford the Porsche they’re driving on a regular basis. We decide that the car must belong to a parent, uncle or maybe they’re drug dealers. The more we think about how they act the more convinced that they really are drug dealers. When all is said in done, nonverbal communications are ambiguous and we need to think about them more often and more carefully than we do.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Who Am I

The fact is that each of us are a process and are constantly changing. The scary part is that we change in part by the influence of people around us. That makes it critical that we choose our friends with great care. You can't choose your parents or other relatives and they have a huge impact on who you think you are.

When you surround yourself with individuals who are honest, capable and willing to spend time with you then you have an excellent start on becoming a person that will be successful. Of course, both you and those around you define success. That definition leads to a longterm process of goal setting which leads to the satisfaction of "success."

The heart of the situation is that we can't tell how effective we are without the aid of others to keep us informed and make suggestions. These people become a series of "mirrors" for us to use to check our performance. As our communications improve we can establish longer term goals. But as long as there is life in us we will be setting goals and attempting to reach them because life is a process and so is communication.

Here's an example: you see someone and say to yourself, "I would really like to know that person better." You set a goal for yourself to spend some time with them letting them know a little about you and at the same time learn a little about them. If they are willing, you have just learned something about yourself. Every situation can lead you to improve your communication skills leading to achievement of goals.

This is a really round about way to say that we should always be learning about communication and we should always be applying what have learned to every day life. That way, we can use those things which work and avoid those things that simple don't work for us.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Breaking Out

Awareness of our communication is always going to be a problem. Assumptions are many and are almost always incorrect. For example, someone reports that you didn't seem too happy when you were told that our vacation plans were going to change. Your position is simple, since I can't do anything about the change in plans, why say anything. So, as you recall the situation, you didn't say anything.

Here's a problem: communication is inescapable. We may not have "said" anything using our words, but we may have said a whole lot with our nonverbal communication. We actually believe that since we didn't "say" anything you can't know that we have been frustrated by a change in plans. Of course we can be misinterpreted, because nonverbal communication is extremely ambiguous, but the more others know about us the less ambiguous our nonverbal communications are.

Another problem: communication is irreversible. We can't take back the verbal or nonverbal communication. It is already in other people's minds and not even they can get rid of it. In fact, the more you try to remove the communication the more likely it is that it will be recalled.

Indeed, communication is complicated. Games like poker can be played more successfully if you are able to hide your nonverbal communication. Some of us seem to be transparent and couldn't keep a secret if our lives depended on it. Some of us "have a way with words" and always seem able to say just the right thing. The more attention we pay to our communication and the better we listen to communications the more likely it is that we can reduce the consequences of being "trapped in our own skin."

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Trapped Inside

Some of the more obvious things about life are often overlooked. We're born, but can't recall being asked to be born. We're alive and soon we are expected to take care of ourselves in nearly all aspects of our lives. When we're born we have no language skills and we don't know most of the rules for successful living. We are wholly dependent on others for most things until we finally are "allowed" (another word might be "forced") to assume responsibility for living a life we didn't ask for in the first place.

Looked at from that point of view, life might seem bleak. On the other hand, there are a great many things about life that are fantastic. If we are willing to learn how many of them are achievable during our lifetime. Most of what we need is the indirect support of others who are in the same position we are. It can be argued that a successful life is made up of learning and adapting.

Communication in all its forms is at the heart of learning and adapting. In fact, being able to think is heavily dependent on communication. As we move through our lives we need to be able to let others know what is going on inside of us and allow them to see what is going on inside of them. In a very real sense, we are trapped inside without communication skills. As our skills increase we gain more and more freedom from the restrictions our bodies started off with at the beginning of life. Communication is worth any time and effort we can spend learning and practicing. Learn and apply until we're dead. The other choice is to remain captive, trapped inside.