Tag Archives: communication

Absolutes claims, and why they should be avoided.


Absolute claims. Every thing, everyone, all, without exception. These are terms I’ve grown to dislike, and are terms I try to eliminate from my vocabulary. Why I do this is because I am not willing to say things are absolutely true, with a few exceptions. The certainty granted by these kinds of absolute statements are a powerful thing. Both when you talk with others and powerful in how it makes you think.

When we talk in certainties we not only run into the problem of misleading those we are talking too, but we can, in the long run, end up tricking ourselves into thinking that we are more certain then we actually have any right to be. There is some truth to those saying which go along the line of: Say something enough and it’ll become true. At least in our own minds that is. When we talk in unwarranted certainties we modify the dialogue we create a culture where where generalizations are true, where the complex is made to look simple, models (think economics) are instead facts of reality, and should it go on long enough soon lies and misconceptions become difficult to pull from the nuggets of wisdom. I’m not going to say this is 100% fact either, but it is how I see things to some extent. My solution is the try to strip much of the excess certainty out of my words as I can. Now I am certain of some thing things, and for those few things I and willing to claim certainly, but if I am unsure or can think of exceptions I think it is important to voice those as caveats in my language. Degrees of certainty are perfectly alright, but complete certainty is rarely warranted.

If I use terms like all, or every I better mean it, otherwise fundamentally I’m being unintentionally misleading at best, or outright lying at worst. I’ll grant a caveat to (obvious) hyperbole, and although it has a place it still shouldn’t be over used. I find by saying just a few extra words we not only become more truthful, but we can more easily open the door to discussion and the complexities which underlie the world we live on. Well that and just become better communicators, you can get yourself into all kinds of trouble with a careless statement. Particularly when grouping people together.

A small and related exercise I regularly do is just to think about the possibility space surrounding an issue. The most practical one is to try to come up with a wide variety of reasons for why a person do an action. For example for us drivers, if some one cuts your off or otherwise drives by erratically. While It’s perfectly normal to think they are insane or morons, or otherwise incompetent in the area of operating motor vehicles. However, don’t stop there, start thinking about more nuanced reasons for why they drove like they did. Perhaps they we’re tired, or distracted, think about reasons what they could be distracted or tired or what have you. Not only do you build your empathy muscles doing this, but you also get good at thinking about the sorts of possibles that exist, and the ways an outcome can arrive from many dissimilar sources. It helps us move away from our human tendencies towards black and white thinking, and otherwise over simplifying the world around us.

So what do you think about absolute statements, and the use of certainty in language? Leave a comment down below!

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That’s Not A Real Feminist Issue


I see this comment made a lot in the comment sections of feminist pages. If a woman says that she was blamed for an accident because she’s a woman and the man who hit her was in the military, people will say “That’s not a feminist issue, it’s an issue with military power.” Yes, it is an issue with military power. People act as if people in the military can do no wrong. People in the military do have privileges that the rest of us don’t have (though I’ll happily keep my lack of military privilege in exchange for not having PTSD). But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t also a feminist issue. People don’t automatically assume that the bad driver ahead of them is male. They don’t tell women “you drive like a man” in a mocking tone when they mean “you’re a bad driver.” The perception that women are bad drivers because they are women is a feminist issue because the assumption is sexist and leads people to treat women differently than they treat men.

Likewise, other “not real issues” are in fact real issues, and they really are important if we want to create a world that is equal for everybody. Men taking up to much space is a real issue. Why? Because your dick does not need so much room that you get to take up two seats worth of space while I’m forced to squeeze into half a seat. I used to ride the train for an hour to school and an hour back home again 5 days a week for two years and yes, I did experience this issue. Transit seats are already too close together. On a full train, I’m already forced to sit of stand shoulder to shoulder with strangers. When I have some asshole sitting next to me putting his leg over the line dividing his seat from mine, that’s infringing on my space. And it’s something men do. Don’t believe me? Go take a ride on a bus or a train and look around. Most of the women will have their legs crossed and their arms resting over their laps. Why? Because women are taught from a young age that this is polite and this is how ladies sit. The men, however, will often have their legs spread out crossing the line dividing their seat from another, regardless of whether or not someone else is sitting in the seat. Men and women also behave differently regarding where they put their bags and how they talk to their friends on transit. Women put their bags on their lap unless they are too big. Men almost always put their bags between their legs, which is often in the way of people getting on and off. Men shout over top of people to continue talking to their friends, but women generally stop talking if they are separated from their friends in the train or bus. So why is this a feminist issue? Because it’s a matter of entitlement. Men feel entitled to the space even if they are negatively affecting someone else to use it. Women feel as though they must make themselves small so as to have as little effect on others as possible. This is how we are raised, and it is a problem. Men shouldn’t feel entitled to the space other people are in, and women shouldn’t feel as though they should disappear in order to make room for others.

Are these minor issues? Yes, but that doesn’t mean they have no roll to play in larger issues. The same issues that lead grown men to not realise how much space they are actually taking also play a role in the “boys will be boys” attitude that people use to ignore a boy’s aggression and in the belief that men can’t control themselves when women dress provocatively. It’s all the same issue of “men are aggressive wild beasts that need to be tamed” that hurt both men and women. And the military privilege is much the same. Women in the military are treated like infiltrators who shouldn’t be there. The privilege is mostly enjoyed by men because they fit the strong warrior trope that all men are supposed to fit (even if they actually don’t). So yes, these are real feminist issues. They are feminist issues because they are yet more privileges that men get to enjoy that are denied to women. They are feminist issues because they help create a world of inequality. And they are feminist issues because size doesn’t matter when it comes to inequality. If something is unequal, it’s unequal. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a little bit unequal. And it doesn’t matter if other people have it worse elsewhere. African women being raped because they want to go to university doesn’t mean that the inequality I face here doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter. My inequality is still inequality. To say otherwise is to allow systematic inequality to persist. And small issues add up to create major issues. Personally, I’d rather deal with them while they are small.

Oh, and I can oppose that rape of African women, and other major inequalities faced by women, at the same time as I oppose the minor issues. So why would I have to pick one or the other? To say I should ignore minor inequalities because they are small is beyond ignorant. So, before you use the “that’s not real feminism” line, actually think about the issue. Think about what the person is saying about it, listen to their reasoning, and think about how that issue can play into other issues. And stop telling me that my experiences and my issues don’t matter.


What is Proselytization?


Or rather, what counts as proselytization? Do holy books count? When someone reads a holy text, are the words proselytizing to them? Or is something more required before it can be considered proselytizing?


Does Anybody Care Anymore?


motivation_meme_gandhi_motivation

Lately I have been struggling with the questions “how do we get people to care?” and “how do we get people involved?” I go to university, which is a place where people tend to be highly motivated and interested in getting involved. We are in a highly competitive environment and we’re all trying to give ourselves that boost we need to get us our desired career. As such, we do a lot outside of classes. But this year…well, it seems as though motivation is lacking.
I think a lot of the lack of motivation is due to the problems people have noticed on campus. Our president is the highest paid in Canada. She makes a ridiculous amount of money. In fact, it seems as though it all goes to her. Since I began attending the university, they’ve added another 1500 students yearly, which is a lot, but they haven’t really done anything to improve the buildings and increase the amount of space we have for studying. Just trying to move around the school is a nightmare because of the number of people in the hallways. The university has even made it more difficult for clubs to get out into the campus community and be seen. We used to be able to book classrooms and equipment for free, but now we have to pay for equipment and we can only book a few rooms a year. This makes throwing events difficult. As such, I think people are genuinely disappointed with the state of the university and unaware of the clubs’ existences.

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But it seems that there is more to it than that. Normally first years come to university and immediately try to get involved. Some look for the more social groups to make friends, and others look for groups that help them get ahead in their field. Many get too involved and end up dropping a few things. But the first years haven’t done that this year. In fact, from what I’ve heard from others, they haven’t even been getting that involved with their classes. And it seems as the students who are graduating have become highly apathetic too. Usually those graduating want to go out with a bang, so they put a lot of effort into their activities in the last year. This is partially because it’s the last year before heading out into the real world and partially to add some extra padding to their resume. But not this year. It seems like those of us who are graduating after spending years getting involved are just exhausted. Nobody cares any more. It’s all very strange.
But this creates a dilemma: how do we keep everything from dying? A number of clubs have already shut down. The Interfaith may be shut down in March if I can’t find people to take over. Even the Freethinkers is struggling, and it’s a well established club. I keep trying to find ways to bring people in and get them to care, but all of my efforts have been in vain. So how do I get people to get involved? How do I get them to care? And how do I save the clubs that I put so much of my time and energy into?

TEAM


Criticizing Others


When I was at LogiCON on Saturday, one of the speakers mentioned how saying “you’re wrong” can easily be translated as “you’re stupid” or “you’re bad.” I think that this is a good point. I talk to a lot of people who believe things that I disagree with. Normally I ignore the belief, because it tends to only affect them. If someone wants to believe that aliens built the pyramids, whatever. As long as they aren’t forcing their beliefs on anyone else, I don’t really care. But sometimes I can’t not speak up. If I think that someone is doing something that will cause harm, then I want to at least encourage them to do otherwise.I cannot not speak up when someone wants to get rid of GM food altogether. If they want to eat organic, fine. But the organic food industry cannot support 7 billion people. I cannot not speak up when someone wants to give up necessary medicine and take alternative medicine instead. And I cannot not speak up when someone wants to force their religious beliefs into politics. 

I’m fine with people believing whatever they want, but I’m not okay with them using their beliefs to cause harm. We all deserve to be treated with respect. That means that I respect their right to believe, but that also means that they respect my right to not believe. Keeping that in mind, how do we let someone know that they are wrong without making them feel stupid? Everybody does stupid things now and again, and we all hold certain beliefs that we aren’t willing to examine closely. But that doesn’t mean that we are stupid. It simply means that everybody is wrong sometimes. 

I want to help people think critically about their beliefs. I want to encourage them to look more closely when I think that they are wrong. That doesn’t mean that I want them to change their mind. I simply want them to support their beliefs with concrete evidence. And I want them to do the same for me. I want them to point out when I am wrong and help me abandon the beliefs that I cannot support with evidence.

But this doesn’t seem to be how most people think. Most people seem to hold their beliefs up on a pedestal and won’t allow anyone to touch them with a ten foot pole. They take it personally when their beliefs are questioned. They also refuse to question others beliefs. They let their loved ones believe things that they see as wrong. This seems odd to me.

So how do we question peoples beliefs without putting them on the defensive? How do we assure them that we don’t think they are stupid? And how do we encourage them to do the same for others?


Comments


I came across a blog that doesn’t allow comments. I was quite disheartened by it, because I wanted to begin a discussion with the blogger in question. I know that there are people out there who do not like getting comments for one reason or another, but it seems to me that it is better to keep the comment threat going. Unless the blogger is receiving threatening messages, of course. I have a number of reasons for feeling this way. First, comments allow one to engage with the audience. I like to know that people are reading my blog and enjoying it. I also like to hear people’s input on what I could improve. I comment on other people’s blogs because I want them to know that their work is worth my time, and I like it when others do the same for me. Second, it allows for the sharing of information. I don’t know everything, and I can very easily get something wrong. Or even just write an opinion that hasn’t been very well thought out. When people correct me, or offer alternative views, it allows me to think about things more deeply and apply more understanding. I won’t always change my opinion when an alternative has been offered, but that doesn’t mean that the person who offered the alternative hasn’t given me something to think about. We all have lived different lives and have had different experiences, so we see things differently. My own life has led me to believe a certain set of things. I like to hear what other people’s lives have led them to believe. And third, having a comment thread humanizes the bloggers. It is easy to forget that the authors of a blog are still people. The perceived anonymity of commenting on a post may allow some to feel entitled to say anything. They are happy to troll and harass people who do not share their views because they don’t know you and you don’t know them. They feel safe. But reading a blog post can feel cold when there is no one to communicate with. You are given and idea and told to accept it. But a comment thread can make the author more human to us and remind us that others are also reading the blog and they have opinions too. We can share our thoughts on the subject and even have conversations with total strangers from anywhere on the planet. I think that that is a wonderful thing.

What are your opinions on having an open comment thread?


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