The Depth Of Perception
I was riding my bike downtown yesterday when I bumped into a friend. Not quite a friend, but an acquaintance. Some people have hundreds of people that they could consider friends, but I have a clear distinction in my mind between a friend and an acquaintance. Certainly acquaintanceships can grow into friendships, that’s how all friendships start, when you think about it. You meet somebody, you either share enough in common, sometimes a location or common goal, like at school or at work.
Then you make the all-important break from your commonalities. If you see somebody at work every day for several months, and you get on with them pretty well this can happen. Maybe they’ll be some after work party, or maybe you’ll get together for a game of basketball after work, and slowly move your relationship away from areas of commonality.
When you can have obvious differences, especially religious, moral or political views, and maintain a solid friendship that transcends all that, then you know you’ve got a winner
I was listening to this guy giving a lecture once on the power of a contrarian opinion. He said that most people surround themselves with people that share their same viewpoints. Most people easily fall into this trap. He was saying this is very dangerous, because if you only expose yourself to one viewpoint, you effectively shut yourself off from the flexibility of thinking if you were to expose yourself to other viewpoints. This works two ways. The first is that you may hear another point of view that actually makes more sense that yours. Another is that you will have to actually defend your point of view rather than just say “Yea!” to each other when you’re hanging out with like-minded friends.
Going through the process of defending and arguing for your point of view other than simply saying “Well, that’s just how I feel. We’ll have to agree to disagree.” Can be a profound learning experience. Saying that you’ll just agree to disagree only makes you and whoever you are disagreeing with dig into your own respective positions a little deeper.
Of course, this can be extremely difficult to do, as many times we have strong emotional connections and investments in our viewpoints. It can be hard to discuss them objectively without feeling we are in a personal battle to see who has the stronger emotional fortitude. Many times, if you break down the arguments from a linguistic and logical standpoint, they don’t differ very much from second grade schoolyard arguments:
“Well, you’re stupid!”
“And your fat!”
And so on. If you remove the emotions from many discussions, debates and arguments, and look at them objectively, you’ll find that almost all arguments will fall into the above structure. Sure they will be much more eloquently stated, and much more long-winded, but the logic boils down the same. To really understand this, it can help to read them on paper, rather than listening to verbal exchanges.
Those that have a depth of understand and a really wide view of the world have the ability to make friends with people of varying viewpoints. Not only that but those that can accept their friends’ opposing viewpoints objectively, and respectfully, without thinking they are somehow morally or intellectually deficient in need to “fixing” are the true winners.
But the guy I ran into had yet cross that level of familiarity. He was an acquaintance that I’d met at a few seminars. We are both in the same line of work, so we attend the same kind of seminars.
So after I stopped and talked to him, we realized that we really don’t have that much in common. After exchanging pleasantries, how ya been, etc, and talked about the latest “news” in our particular industry, we really weren’t left with much to talk about. It was an interesting part of our conversation, that only lasted a few seconds. It was subtle, but I think we both understood what was going on.
I’d stopped my bike and got off, but not completely. I was still straddling it so I could easily start peddling again. He stopped in the street, and only half turned to face me. Both of us had only about half a commitment to the conversation. After the normal “how ya doin,” we moved onto the “what are you doing, where are you going.” Neither of us wanted to give up much, we each gave the perfunctory “oh nothing much, just hanging out.” Then the moment of truth came. There we were, on a Sunday afternoon. We knew each other on a first name basis, and if we kept our discussion to our respective jobs, we could probably fill a couple hours of conversation. Both had acknowledged we didn’t have any particular plans for that day. But neither of us had committed fully to the conversation, from a body language perspective.
So after our exchange, we stood there. Waiting for the other, or perhaps giving the other a chance to suggest doing something together. Grab a bite to eat, get a beer, whatever. But neither of us was interested enough to being the first to initiate it. But we both felt kind of obliged to allow the other person to chance. Neither of us did, and we said our “see ya around’s” and left.
The same kind of interaction that happens every day, hundreds of millions of times. The way humans kind of “sniff” each other out to determine each other’s intentions.
Now normally I wouldn’t pay much attention to such a non-event, but I’ve been reading a lot of Steven Pinker’s books lately, which focus on linguistics and how they effect psychology. There is a lot going on to our daily communications that are below the surface, and many times have much more influence on our relationships that the actual words that we use. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.
I guess the moral of the story, or the take away, is realize that we humans communicate on many, many different levels, and we are always reading others and projecting things about ourselves to all of those around us, all the time.
So we got that going for us. Which is nice, I think.