April 30, 2019: Sense-Making
A comparing mind finds hierarchies. Hoo-nōs
I was in a seminar many years ago and the group I was part of had two folks I found nearly impossible to listen to because they were, let’s say unusual in appearance and demeanor—as in really unusual. I got caught up wallowing in that shallow data and it was a couple of days before I quit focusing on their appearance and demeanor and finally heard what they were saying, realizing they were making sense.
I had a couple of uncles I considered weird in some ways—North Carolina boys (my parents were from North and South Carolina). And as a California lad, they certainly thought I was the weird one. One of them failed to understand why anyone would have a bathroom in the house—one does not do their business in the same building where one lives. Naturally he and his family had an outhouse on their 40 acres. I had never considered it before having grown up expecting a bathroom in the house. And both of those uncles were beside themselves at the level of government regulation—one couldn’t even go to an outhouse without someone approving it. And taxes—that was just government theft. The way they put it all, made some degree of sense (they worked hard for a living). They were not loose cannons, just folks who grew up without much, relying on their wits and work to feed themselves and their family. And they did. And they were proud of it—no handouts for them. They were weird, but not fools, as they recognized my counterpoint about infrastructure and the need for mutual cooperation and financial contributions. Then their argument became about regulating the regulators. That’s checks and balances. My “long-hair, hippie” persona, as they saw me, was making some sense. Their country, near “red-neck” view made some sense. From then on we made good fun of each other, accepting our respective weirdness, but never forgetting to see if it all made some kind of good sense.
The seminar experience came well after the experience with my Southern relatives. Learning to listen in one venue doesn’t always translate to listening in many venues.
The carriage of a person, the tone of voice, the way they dress, the way they look, their background, gender, age, etc. are foolish focal points if one is trying to comprehend what is being said. On the other hand, if one is trying to compare and categorize, then we listen for cues to place one in a social hierarchy—the ol’ less-than or more-than cubby holes.
We are all aliens in a Star Wars Bar (where have I heard that before?) and the point of cognitive-emotional checks and balances—of sense-making—is to not get lost in appearance and demeanor. Save that focus for the fashion runway. I learned—am still learning—to look for that good sense-making and steer clear of getting caught up in the alien-ness of others. That alien-ness is darn near a given. But getting past it isn’t. Getting to sense-making has to be learned and practiced. So does learning to hear sense-making. Learning the skills of listening and making sense will sure help when it comes to recognizing those folks steeped in exploitation and misdirection. After all, the latter is a zone free of checks and balances and it is those checks and balances that are a central pillar of our democracy.