April 19th, 2006

ozarque figure

Personal note....

We have at last three sizable discussions going on here at the same time: one on touch language in an anti-touch culture; one on whether contemplation (used loosely as a cover term for prayer, meditation, creative visualization, contemplation proper, and more) is actually "doing something" in the way that kicking a ball is doing something -- with a subthread on Troublesome and the definition of evil in my Ozark Trilogy; and one on the Jane Smiley anti-Bush tirade, with multiple subthreads.

I need to do a post on each of those topics, in response to all the comments (as well as answering individual comments). And we still have On Hold a post that takes up the issue of whether the how-to-disagree-without-being-disagreeable strategies discussed previously can be used for the same purpose online, or can be adapted in some fashion that makes them suitable for that purpose.

I'm in a bit over my head, you perceive. I'll be getting to things as quickly as I can, in no particular order. If I had a magic wand I'd do all of them simultaneously, and that would be preferable, but I don't even have a magic twig. One at a time, therefore.

If I lose track of something in the process, please remind me.
ozarque figure

Touch language -- answers to some questions, part 3

You asked me for examples of situations in my experience where the basic cause of a serious problem turned out to be touch dominance, and working directly with the touch dominance turned out to be the solution. In part 2 of this post I discussed examples involving touch dominance as a problem in education. Moving on....

The other most typical example I have worked with over the years is communication breakdown in a group where the basic cause is that (a) the group includes only one touch dominant individual and (b) no one understands that that's the problem. If that individual (let's call him J.T., for convenience) were just an undistinguishable cog in the operations of the group, he wouldn't have lasted a week. But the classic situation is that J.T. has skills that the group finds indispensable, and so they keep him on. Because the bulk of my work has been in the medical environment, J.T. was often a superb surgeon or other physician, but not always; sometimes J.T. was a superb engineer, or a superb computer programmer, or a superb salesman. And once in a while J.T. was someone way down at the bottom of the organizational feed chain who had a seemingly magical knack for getting things people needed and getting them quickly. Always, the group felt that they couldn't do without J.T., but keeping him was driving people nuts because.... "He's so hostile." "He's so uncooperative." "He's so sullen." "He's so scary." "He's so obnoxious." "He's so crude." Any time I get to a site and am immediately told by several people that so-and-so in the group is "a flaming pain in the neck," I immediately, on the basis of long experience, suspect that when I meet this pain in the neck it will turn out to be J.T.

In a tv sitcom the unspeakably antisocial but superbly-skilled doctor who was the star of "House" may be interesting and intriguing; if you have to deal with him all the time in the real world, you'll quickly discover that it's no fun at all.

Because communication is a feedback loop, this kind of language problem gets out of control in a hurry. People don't want to talk to J.T., and they expect him to be unpleasant; J.T. senses that expectation the minute they approach him, and he resents it, which makes him unpleasant; this confirms their expectations and makes them even more unwilling to talk to him the next time, which will be reflected in their body language, which will make J.T. even more resentful, which will confirm their expectations..... It just goes round and round, and pretty soon everybody is in a state of nerves that guarantees low morale, low productivity, high turnover, and stress-related illness and accidents. Even when J.T. is high-status enough to be followed around at all times by a sort of Designated Interpreter who keeps saying things like, "Don't pay any attention to the way he talks -- he doesn't really mean to be unpleasant. You're lucky to have him as your surgeon/engineer/computer programmer/[whatever] -- he's the best!" That helps outsiders, but it's no help to the members of the group, for whom J.T. is a chronic irritant that never goes away.

Two things make this problem difficult -- not impossible, but difficult -- for the troubleshooter to solve:

(1) People are extremely resistant to the idea that the reason for the problem could be as simple as touch dominance and that its solution could be as simple as learning to accept and use touch language. They fight me on that every step of the way. They're the product of a culture that says "No pain, no gain"; they don't welcome a solution that's easy, and they don't trust it for a minute.

(2) The solution is slow enough to take effect that the group tends to conclude -- quickly -- that it's not going to work. Things have to be in a nearly desperate state before I can convince them that they must not give up just because they don't see an immediate difference. I warn them that a situation of mutual distrust and dislike that's been building up for months, sometimes for years, isn't going to go away in three days; I warn them that it's going to take a while, and that every time they lose patience and revert to their previous language patterns they make the process even slower. If they're desperate enough, they believe me, and they "stay with the program" -- but they bury me in long bitter complaints about how hard it is. (Except they don't use the word "hard"; they usually say "difficult.")

And two things keep it from being impossible. (1) They really are desperate -- nobody calls a linguist as long as there's anything else to try. (2) The solution really does work, despite its being so easy that nobody has any respect for it, and after a while -- six weeks is about average -- things get better.