Communicating ideas to other people can be very tricky, especially if you want to be understood.
Subtle differences in perception may go unnoticed, leaving you under the impression that everything was interpreted accurately. Most often this doesn't change the big picture at all, but if you are lucky - subtleties pile up and form a substantial difference. If you are extremely lucky - there may be no way to undo the damage.
This is akin to finding [and correcting] errors in a system - the sooner you discover a bug, the easier it is to fix it. If you've thought things through and found it early - the solution can be as simple as erasing a box in a sketch or drawing a line somewhere. However, if an error eluded you for a longer time, fixing it is much more complicated.
Earlier bug detection is better for your health. (Hippocrates, 400 BC)
Over the years I've developed a habit that helps me avoid such situations; it happened naturally, but it is time to attempt to formalize the method and describe it in details.
Initially I thought the story should be called "The art of saying
stupid crazy things", but that name may not appeal to everyone, thus I will henceforth refer to this as "hyperbolic thought".
First of all, expressing ideas is difficult, even though there are many languages and millions of words to choose from. The black guy says X, the green guy hears X but thinks X'. There is a delta between X and X'. Sometimes it can be neglected and it has no practical implications. Sometimes.
Second, I think it is important to acknowledge the fact that we, people, like to stick to our ideas. We recognize them easily when they're expressed by someone else and we agree naturally (because they're ours!). There is one caveat - sometimes the idea we hear is not the one we think of, yet we agree with it right away.
Humans seeing things that are not there is old news. We see a face on the Moon, we see a face on Mars, we see canals on Mars, we see smiley faces in the clouds, we see Elvis in a sweat-stain and there's a JFK in an omelette. The brain is a pattern recognition system, so don't be surprised when it recognizes patterns.
This is like working with a stable system - it has a preferred state (the ball is at the bottom) and if you move it a little bit to the left or to the right, it reverts to the preferred state. Automagically.
But what if you want the system to stay in that other state, still within the comfort zone, but not the preferred state? This is where it gets tricky.
Imagine you are talking to someone who has a firm opinion with respect to X (it is their preferred state), but you want them to shift their point of view to X'.
You can say X' and you can have it on film and ask a notary to confirm that X' is indeed what you have said. You can also say "Hey, can you echo what you heard?" and get an "X'" back. However, your peer still thinks X, but you can't know that, because you don't have access to their brain.
The solution is to say something that goes waaaay outside the normal range. This will signalize the fact that you refer to something different. Quite often... at the expense of being seen as a crazy person.
Depending on the circumstances, you may have to go really far to ensure your peer has reset the context and is not using their preferred interpretation anymore:
Pay attention to the fact that even though you want to move it just a millimeter to the right, you have to say it as if you're aiming 10 kilometers away; otherwise you're simply misunderstood!
The reason this works is because there is an obvious contrast, one cannot miss it. Once your peer realizes that there is a difference, you can fully synchronize by asking test questions, exchanging ideas back and forth until you finally settle at another point of stability.
Not doing this is easy and is often the preferred choice. No one calls you crazy, no one thinks you are stupid. People relate to you easily because you never push them out of their comfort zones. You never bring them bad news so they have no reasons not to like you. There are no misunderstandings - because you never go to the bottom of things and interactions are superficial. There is a tiny problem though - you're on different pages, even though it feels that is not the case.
Another side effect is that sometimes people see that you've gone far away and they never switch to the "and now you can synchronize properly and ask test questions" phase. You're labeled "extremist" and your noble intentions are of nobody's concern.
On the bright side - this method can bring up discussion points that everybody was afraid to mention (fear of being seen crazy), so someone has to bite the bullet and go for it.
With time you will observe that people get stuck in a lot of unusual places.
I am not implying that all of the things above are equivalent, so here's a more artistic representation of a very stable point of view in which people got stuck by the millions, for the sake of diversity:
No party is complete without specific examples. One that comes to mind is the recent discussion about Islam in Moldova, covered by the media and discussed on Internet forums (the birthplace of truth). Imagine that the question boils down to "Shall we allow mosques to be built in Chișinău?”.
I can say ”Yes!”, while your reaction could be
Thank you for supporting equality.
Whereas the full version of my thought is "Yes, all religions are equally evil, if we allow one - not allowing them all would be unfair". That's equality too, but not quite the same flavour.
I can say ”No!”, while your reaction could be
Thank you for supporting the orthodox tradition!
Whereas the full version of my thought is "No. In fact, we should also replace all churches and synagogues with schools and kindergartens!".
As you can see, the original yes/no answers give you the impression that we share the same point of view, but they are very different.
Sometimes this is not enough to change one's interpretation (they still keep seeing it their way), thus I could come up with much more aggressive versions:
- Yes, if we allowed these crackpots to build their clubs, how are those other crackpots any different?
- No, in fact we should burn down all the churches and synagogues too!
This story itself is an example of a hyperbole - I am sharing a straightforward idea, but I am using quite extreme ways to get the message across, otherwise I might be unable to shake you out of your preferred state. It doesn't mean that I'm walking around with a gas canister and setting buildings on fire, but you may still think I am crazy.
Maybe you're right!
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