April 20th, 2006

ozarque figure

Touch language -- answers to some questions, part 3, continued...

I'm very much at a loss this morning. Not because being fussed at is all that disconcerting -- I've been fussed at in this journal before, and I can handle that reasonably well; it's not the first time that there's been a chorus of comments saying, in sum: "Hey! Your current post doesn't meet my standards, and here's why." The problem is that I'm not at all sure I can make the situation any more clear than I have already. I don't believe in the principle of "If you say it over and over again, people will eventually think it's true," not with people as intelligent and articulate and competent and sophisticated as you [youall] are.

You're asking me for something that doesn't exist: You want a dramatic anecdote about working directly with touch dominance to repair communication breakdown in a situation where only one person in a group -- a person with skills that are indispenable to the group -- is touch dominant. My word on it: I've been through that experience scores of times, and it's never yet been dramatic. There's nothing dramatic or gripping about the situation of a group where communication has broken down to the point that everybody's miserable. [Although it can certainly become dramatic if nothing is done about it and somebody goes postal -- an experience that I've been fortunate enough never to have had to go through.] It's like the situation of a group where everybody has a hangover every morning. Just doggedly miserable, day after day.

Suppose you never brush your teeth. You're going to have lots of problems. Your teeth are going to decay and rot, your gums are going to bleed, you're going to be very lucky if you avoid serious systemic illness. You're going to have no social life at all, because your breath is so foul; everybody will avoid you if they possibly can. Nobody will give you a job; you're going to be poor. You're not going to find a spouse or partner. You're going to be miserable.

Now suppose an expert comes in and convinces you that if you'll just start brushing your teeth your life will improve dramatically. It may take a while -- because the health problems won't go away overnight, and it will take some time for other people to recognize the change and stop avoiding you -- but if you just stick to the program things will get better. And you do brush your teeth, twice a day at least, and in a month or six weeks things do get better.

That's not dramatic. I write fiction competently; I could write a literary short story or novel that explored the nontoothbrusher's misery in intricate and agonizing detail so that readers would appreciate the suffering involved. But outside fiction -- just dealing with nontoothbrushers in the real world -- it's not dramatic. And the same thing is true for the examples I discussed in the previous "part 3" post.

These incidents are always the same, and they're not dramatic. I find JT; I explain the problem to both JT and the other members of the group (privately, in two separate meetings); everybody is so desperate that they're willing to try what I've suggested in spite of thinking it's ridiculous; and after a few weeks things get better. That's very simple, and very boring. Like brushing teeth.

There's one significant difference between the touch language situation and the toothbrushing situation. Where brushing the teeth is concerned, the only person who needs to do anything different is the individual who's not brushing his or her teeth, and that behavioral change is no big deal. It's inexpensive and painless and doesn't take a whole lot of time or effort. It makes sense, in that context, to say that the person who is at the heart of the problem should be the one who changes. In the case of the touch dominant person, it's not that simple.

Suppose you are a sight dominant person and I suggest to you that you should just give that up and behave like a touch dominant person. That's not easy. It's not like just starting to brush your teeth twice a day. It means moving differently, and using a different vocabulary, and interacting with people differently, and paying attention to different things than you ordinarily pay attention to, and giving importance to things that it's not natural for you to give importance to; it means becoming in many ways a different person. You probably wouldn't be willing to do that, and I would be the first to tell you that I agreed with you that you shouldn't have to.

The person who never brushes his or her teeth is doing something that everyone agrees is wrong and is bound to lead to one awful thing after another. Perceiving that person as a jerk who won't do something as simple as brushing his or her teeth, for his own sake and the sake of the group, is rational. The touch dominant person -- our old friend J.T. -- is doing nothing wrong. He is being himself in the same way that the sight and hearing dominant people in the group are being themselves. The fact that those people perceive him as a jerk is not his fault. If he had been able to learn how to behave like a sight or hearing dominant person he probably would have done that long ago, because like anybody else he needs and longs for interactions with other human beings who don't perceive him as a jerk.

In a situation like this, there's a boringly simple solution available: (1) Remember that J.T. is touch dominant, and that leaping to the conclusion that his touch language (including the body language) is intended to be either violent or erotic is an error. (2) When you can respond to his touch language with touch language yourself -- something any native speaker of English can do, for free -- do that. The other members of the group have a simple choice. They can either do those two things, neither of which is rocket science, or they can go on being miserable. It is my opinion that to choose to go on being miserable under those circumstances is not rational.

It's a question of what the group's goals are. If the goal is to fix the problem, that's easily done. The fact that it's so easy isn't something I'm interested in changing.