Distinctions LO1021

David E. Birren, MB/5, 608.267.2442 (BIRRED@dnr.state.wi.us)
Tue, 2 May 1995 09:43 CST


You described a problem I've had for many years:

"It is not uncommon for me to encounter a lot of resistance to
distinctions when I use common words for making them (even with using them
for explicit purposes) or when I introduce uncommon words or phrases
(which are often seen as jargon)."

This may rub some people the wrong way, but I'm just going to say it and
then continue with responding to your message. I like the definition of
intelligence as the ability to make distinctions. Your problem may be
that you're dealing with people who are not as "intelligent" as you, or
possess a different kind of intelligence.

OK, now that I've corked off just about everyone on this list, I'll
mention a few implications of this idea.

First, intelligence defined this way carries no inherent value (that is, I
*try* - not always successfully - to discuss it without making personal
value judgments, like shoe size or skin color).

It's important to communicate with compassion. If you're speaking with
someone who is having difficulty seeing the distinctions that you have
made, first assume that you are speaking jargon and translate your idea
into common language. (It's amazing how much confusion can be cleared up
this way.) Then, give your partner(s) in communication a lot of credit for
having an obstacle you don't know about, such as a mental block, or a
different cultural perspective, or a personal problem, or even some other
skill, that interferes with their ability to see your point. This is to
say, speak with compassion (sympathy put into practice, as one of our
cohorts said a while back).

Sometimes you must break your idea into pieces. This means you have to
examine the flow of thought that led to the distinction that you so
clearly see but everyone else is having trouble with. This may involve
analyzing insights, no easy task. Get clear on the steps, and then
describe them one by one, trying to be as down-to-earth as possible (this
is advice I would do well to heed more often). Be patient. It may take
time to get even part of your thought process across. This last bit of
advice works both ways, at least for me. I often have to strap myself
down to let another person's words work inside long enough to understand
what they meant.

Finally, put it all in perspective - what are the consequences if people
don't see what you see? An example from my own life has to do with ethics
and morality. I draw an important distinction between them, but when I've
tried to explain it, I get responses that range from blank looks (at best)
to accusations of self-importance (at worst). My latest foray into this
briar patch left me with the awareness that this distinction is useful for
me in certain situations, and that's about it. (Actually, it went a bit
further - I now see that the distinction is really a very fine point that
misses the real issues of right living and spirituality in daily life.)

You continued:

"At times, it has almost seemed that I come across as a kind of
'intellectual bully' when I insist that the distinctions be made. I find
such situations evers so frustrating because it seems as if the objectors
are not interested in the usefulness of the exercise and would rather swim
around in a sea of murky, and unchallenging concepts."

Thanks for validating much of my experience over the past 30 years.
People are just more comfortable with their own paradigms, however murky
and unchallenging they may be. I'd say that most folks aren't as thrilled
about intellectual challenge as we are (why do we stay on this list,
anyway?), and if we're going to have any kind of productive discourse we
just have to accept the way it is. Sometimes a good idea just doesn't
survive. My ego screams when it hears this, but the soul knows better.
What a job it is to just shut up and listen....

To put a different spin on this (sorry to keep drawing from personal
experience but I don't know anything else) - my (almost ex-) wife used to
go up the wall trying to get me to see her side of emotional issues. I'm
just not very bright that way. It would warm her heart to hear me say
that there are different kinds of intelligence, and she is brilliant in
her own way (maybe I'll tell her that one of these days), just as I am in
mine (so people tell me).

Basta! I'll shut up now and try to listen to the responses. I hope this
helps, Doug, even if all it does is validate your experience and feelings.



David E. Birren Phone: (608)267-2442
Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources Fax: (608)267-3579
Bureau of Management & Budget Internet: birred@dnr.state.wi.us
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"To know, and not to act, is to not know."
--Wang Yang Ming, 9th-century Chinese general