Conversation as a spectrum

Communication between two people falls on a spectrum, and that spectrum has more than one dimension. In fact, I imagine it has many dimensions.

Information could be flowing predominantly from person A to B, evenly, or in the other direction; this can be imagined as one dimension of the communication. The tension—antagonism, slight repulsion, a neutral first meeting, mild interest, intimate whispers—can be negative or positive; this can be another dimension. Communication can be durable (recorded, written, notes taken, etc.) or ephemeral; that’s another dimension. It can also vary in the dimension from private to public.

It’s interesting to consider how real scenarios could be characterized using those dimensions. Consider: An interrogation involving torture, an interrogation of a subject with their rights observed, a private investigator seeking to solve a case, a journalist interviewing a war criminal, a journalist interviewing a cultural icon, two friends talking while sharing a meal, single-serving sized friends on a plane (hat tip to Chuck Palahniuk), or lovers sharing pillow talk. The scenarios, like life, are endlessly varied.

All of that is a reductionist analysis; How do I simplify the real scenario to find some principles that are durable across scenarios. That’s useful. But I could also turn my analysis around. While having a conversation, I could consider those principles as a way to guide my efforts to create a certain kind of conversation.

Direction of information flow? …should I be talking more or less? Tension? …is there, should there be, more or less? Durability? Privacy? There are certainly more dimensions, and therefore more principles, than those I’ve listed. And the insight gained from understanding every principle could be evaluated in the context—the right-now in each moment’s context—of every conversation.

What would happen if I continuously, (as often as is possible in a conversation, but also by reflecting on each conversation and planning for the next,) made conscious adjustments? What would happen if I did that over 100, 500, or even 1,000 conversations? Now that’s a good question.

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Remember sweetness

It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.

~ Chuck Palahniuk

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I continue to practice shifting my perspective. Instead of “pain” and “pleasure” though, I struggle with “failure” and “success.” The danger of setting clear goals, is that it’s equally clear whether or not they are achieved. Not reaching a goal is clear, and real. And to pretend otherwise is foolish.

The trap is that I forget that each goal contains a degree of arbitrariness. Success (reach the goal) and failure (not reach the goal.) Do not admit of shades of grey. But I systematically make the error of moving those adjectives onto my own self-assessment. Did I reach that goal? No. Then: I’m a failure.

A friend of mine once said that it takes a special person to be able to set a goal they cannot achieve. The cleverness—in my opinion—in there is that to be that special person, you have to set a goal that you believe you can achieve… and then discover your belief was wrong. I had a belief—some piece of a model of reality, a map of a territory, a piece of knowledge—and I’ve now realized, as I fail to reach a goal, that I was wrong. That’s literally learning.

…so really, every time I fall short on a goal, I’m literally learning and getting better. Every time I set a goal and “succeed,” not so much.

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