Communication

Games People Play

Despite being given a bad rap these days when every child wins a prize and any tall poppy can be cut down to size, competition remains a valid and valuable developmental tool for human endeavour and personal maturity. Games and organised sport have proven important personal and community pursuits.

Occasional disputes over the rules or who has won do not invalidate the value of playing the game. In a civil society, issues at dispute can be debated and changes negotiated without resorting to violence and destruction, whether social or physical. Life can move on, improved. Respect and acceptance of the outcome will see us through if we all understand common parameters of the game and share common values.

It’s hard to be sure today, when cancel culture dominating the air waves has overturned much of what is known and understood from centuries of evolution of western civilization. Until recently in this country, it was given that all people were equal before the law and we enjoyed freedom of speech and choice, based on enlightened Judeo-Christian traditions.

Other gods

Decline in practice of religion has led to two outcomes – decline of common values and the need to fill the faith vacuum with new beliefs of other gods, perhaps even becoming a god oneself – the very thing scriptures warn against. As ever, power, money and moral superiority are the incentives. Judge not lest you too be judged we were advised.

Values have certainly become more diverse in this era of disruption and there has been a significant decline in respect for alternative perspectives. While we might try to learn from the prevailing message, it is hard to get involved when the message constantly changes, as does the game.

Take for instance the issue of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. A lot of protest, anger, hatred and destruction directed against innocent parties, even black people and businesses, often by whites claiming virtue and purpose. The game changes when underlying truths are exposed and a black person pronounces that “all lives matter”. Trolls pile in to destroy the character and standing of the “traitor” to the black cause. Rules of the game’s code are no longer understood as in the original handbook of the bible or the footy, but become fascist interpretations of whoever chooses to take offence first and fastest. Truth, history and respect have no part in the game.

Intersectional games

These days as we are divided into in identity groups (skin colour, gender, gender preference, climate change, religion) the zeitgeist can approve of our particular victim hood with empathy and feel good about it. Problems and opprobrium arise when sections are crossed.

JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame and a strong supporter of feminism found out just how badly when running afoul of the transphobic Twitterati defining woman by their gender identity and capability to menstruate. The ensuing pile-on sought to discredit Rowling and everything else she had achieved for this grievous misdemeanour according to the transgender bible of the day. Rowling’s approval for gender preference lost out on her definition of women in the intersectional game.

We have certainly come a long way in the acceptance of LGBQTI identification and gay marriage, but when innocent words, deliberately misinterpreted, can cause such a global wave of hostility in cancel culture, it makes one long for the old days when understanding of the rules of the game were simple and well understood. Unconscious bias and preferred pronouns seem so remote from those of us battling along in a COVID era, too busy to take offence.

You would think that Jacinta Price, an outspoken, articulate aboriginal woman with particular leadership qualities would attract support on gender and colour identities. Jacinta’s failing, according to the moral gods of now, is that she is honest about aboriginal on aboriginal violence and community dysfunction, challenging aborigines to greater responsibility. At the same time Jacinta acknowledges the countless, costly ways that indigenous Australians receive special support from the broader community. Because her pragmatic approach aimed at truly advancing aborigines does not comply with the accepted narratives of institutional racism, colonial exploitation and white supremacy, Jacinta suffers relentless abuse from moral arbiters.

Personal games

Yet even in our simple day to day lives we can be affected by the games people play. Take the marriage where the wife demands that unless the husband (or vice versa) improves his performance she will leave. So he gets professional advice and makes a valiant attempt to shore up the relationship by complying with her wishes. To no avail. The game changes and there are new demands to be met. She leaves anyway. He can’t win.

Or take the young mother who judged the children’s grandmother to be ‘unworthy’ because the birthday greetings and gifts were inadequate. Even the grandmother’s concerted effort to upgrade presents on a limited budget made no impact on the referee. The rules changed and the grandchildren were denied the gifts. The grandmother had no chance of scoring; ultimately refusing to participate in a “game” without respect or fairness that she could not win, even if it meant no access to grandchildren by the almighty judge.

Similar unreasonable demands can be made in a workplace, or between a contractor and consultant. Unrealistic time frames and under-resourcing put pressure on the worker who must deliver the output. The person paying holds the power of referee in the game. Where respect and fairness prevail, both parties may be satisfied. Yet it is not unknown for limitations of the “referee” being projected onto the person expected to deliver to judge the work unsatisfactory and refuse to pay, or even worse, expect payment for the inconvenience of being unreasonable. Situations like this can occur even when the parameters are spelled out clearly at the beginning of the work.

Conversely, when people understand the rules of the “game” and comply willingly, everyone can advance happily. Having moved house recently I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter fair play and experience the good cheer that accompanied it.

When movers arrived at the house, they went through what I had ordered and what was expected of them. Costs were clarified and methods of payment. Then cheerily they went about their business, two strong young blokes working in seamless tandem. On arrival at the new abode the same attitude prevailed, though they had to manage to move via a lift. Each was respectful and careful of the furniture and equipment, clarifying position and arrangement. Costs were confirmed and payment made. The difficult task of moving house was made more bearable by everyone playing the game to the rules.

I’m a bit past assembling flat pack furniture, so engaged the services of a bloke who does it well and likes doing it. His quote for assembly was confirmed or adjusted once he sighted the items before he went about his business, chatting cheerfully. When he was finished, satisfied with his work as was I, payment was gladly made and we parted ways, both enriched, until next time. We have both understood the rules and played the game.

How to play the game in future

The year 2020 has been a particularly disruptive one, not only because of constrictions brought about by COVID-19, but also because of the shake-up in understanding and values as we are challenged to grapple with a new order at so many levels. Even the footy is struggling to gain momentum after being shut down like everyone else.

Don’t be like the Palestinians who never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. We can take time during disruption to reset the parameters of the way we play our “games”. Sticking to what is tried and true, respecting history and people and playing fair will ensure peace on our patch as, like the movers, we cheerily do our bit.

Communication

The Rush to Judgment

The good and bad of social media

Like all innovations, social media has both a good side and a bad side. On the good side, Facebook allows people to stay connected, to spread messages of hope and invite participation in a simple, opt-in way. On the bad side some people feel free to commit their very worst judgements to the cyber world forever, with little consideration for what this may mean for them or others down the track.

Twitter especially seems to invite expression of the very ugliest side of ourselves in 140 key strokes. President Trump has turned Twitter to his advantage, able to circumvent an adversarial media to speak directly with supporters. Not every one of his much publicised tweets has merit, though many cut directly to issues and the people. Leadership tends to be imperfect in this complex world where the Pharisaic righteous of the new moralities of climate change, right-speak and identity politics hold sway.

Old wisdom holds still

Should we care to look, wisdom for the present can be gleaned from ancient sources. When Solomon became king, he prayed, not for gold nor power, but for the ‘wisdom of discernment to administer justice’.

Wisdom of discernment seems to have dissipated with the decline in knowledge of history and the practice of Christianity. Whereas once we would have been advised ‘not to judge lest we ourselves be judged’, today people gain instant emotional gratification in tweeting horribly damning assertions against others whom they do not even know. Ill informed! Unwise! Extremely harmful – to the target in the first instance, yet also to themselves!

Social media and the impact of offence archaeology

Any online search can pull up comments made 10, 20 or 30 years ago, to be held against a person’s character today, to disadvantage them in their life and career. The same thing happens in the Family Court where actions as a teenager can be condemned by today’s adult standards of a woke society.

Take the case of Britain’s Toby Young who stuck his neck out to make a difference in educational outcomes, founding four ‘free schools’ by influencing discipline and raising expectations. His efforts were recognised and successful techniques copied, eventually leading to his appointment to several educational advisory boards.

All that proved to no avail when an offence archaeologist trawled through his personal history to find a 1987 article of his able to be quoted out of context in the fake news. As a result of the ensuing blood-crazed feeding frenzy, unwarranted attention was attracted, not just to his life and career, but also to the five organisations with which he became associated. Young resigned from all of them, weathered the storm and began a new organisation, the Free Speech Union, to support and defend others who find themselves in a similar position having their reputation, career and life destroyed in the twitter sphere and other public forums.

Then there is Alistair Stewart, an honoured forty year veteran journalist of ITV in Britain, for whom the pile-on came after a few misjudged tweets quoting a Shakespearean comparison ended his career in humiliating resignation. A mentally fragile Stewart ended his life. Meanwhile those piling on, rushing to judgement, carry on devastating the lives, reputations and careers of others unimpeded, on the way to destroying the ordinary person’s belief in a just society.

We are all familiar with similar cases within our own circle. What can be a positive medium for generating crowd funding for worthwhile causes proves devastating when used destructively against those around us.

Woe to you who load up packs too heavy for people to carry.

Attaining wisdom of discernment

My book, Becoming, invites readers to make more considered decisions than is evident in the emotional, reactive trend on Twitter and other social media. Using my Maturity Model, truth (fact) is as essential as the courage to be honest. Expectations must be reasonable otherwise responsibilities increase to cause dissension and division, with high social and financial costs. Context is crucial to sound decision-making that we can live with.

Yet even scant analysis of cases where reputable people are ‘cancelled’ (e.g. Young and Stewart) clearly shows that context is either absent or distorted, facts are optional, good humour that could provide balance is missing, as the cowardice of emotional tweeters prevails in the empire of offence taken in the rush to judgement by the righteous of the new moralities.

Yet victims of such hatred could be spared if the tweeters took a little time to reflect. In time, facts emerge that may render judgement unnecessary. A little self-reflection may reveal the contradiction of one’s own prejudice. I’ve found that allowing matters to settle often diminishes the need to make any judgement at all, allowing people, situations and hurt to pass with minimum disruption to life, as we all do or say something silly at some stage. Of course, there have been occasions when my tolerance has been misplaced and people have taken advantage of the generosity of spirit and rushed to baseless negative judgement anyway, that has cost me dearly.

Being confident and mature, understanding that context and dealing in facts certainly contributes to the wisdom of discernment that enriches lives. It just takes more than 140 keystrokes.

Reclaiming a just society

In hindsight, Toby Young recognised his naivety in believing, as do many of us, that if we do the right thing by ourselves and others, the universe would be just. I was once told by my son that what he valued in my teaching children to be decent people was these days seen as an opportunity to exploit. Through misused social media and the rush to judgement it encourages, he has been proven right. Be thou chaste as ice or pure as driven snow thou shalt not escape calumny.

Out of the crucible of suffering experienced by Young has come the foundation of the Free Speech Union. The organisation aims to counter the ‘cancel’ culture and support those wronged by campaigns of ill-informed negative judgement with countervailing campaigns on social media and email. Supporting legal advice will challenge interference in a contract when a target has been sacked as a consequence of a concerted and baseless rush to judgement.

Young’s Free Speech Union is an organisation desperately needed for the quiet, decent people trying to do the right thing by themselves, their families, community and colleagues, who are piled upon by those committed to new morality values of political correctness, identity politics, climate catastrophe, only to find their lives destroyed, quite unwittingly. In the mindless rush to wrong judgement may the Free Speech Union deliver on its purpose and may you never have to seek its support.

Where a decision must be made, judge with wisdom of discernment.

Child and family, Communication

A little more conversation

(Photo and pottery by Jan Hammond: janhammond1941@gmail.com)

The Oxford dictionary definition of conversation is:

“A talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged”

Late Middle English (in the sense ‘live among, be familiar with’): from Old French converser, from Latin conversari ‘keep company (with’), from con– ‘with’ + versare, frequentative of vertere ‘to turn’.

Even from the 17th Century derivative, conversation is understood as being “with” others, engaged in an “exchange” of news and ideas. Implicit in our understanding, in order to engage in conversation, we would necessarily be “present” to another, aware, listening and open to exchange, able to be influenced. In effect, a true understanding of what is conversation presumes we have become accomplished in the enduring young adult competencies of intimacy and mutuality. Can this be achieved through Facebook, Text or Twitter?

The speed of social change has been so dramatic, we have not yet had time to step back to assess what the rapid change in technology means in our lives. Seeking personal affirmation from the virtual world in the number of Facebook “friends”, “likes”, shares and retweets, while satisfying in the short-term, may have longer term implications for our ability to deal with the difficulties and the possibilities of the real world.

Young adult tasks for all

Technology aside, for beneficial conversation we still need to develop competency in the young adult resources of intimacy and mutuality. Refreshing those skills from time to time helps draw us out of patterns of self-absorption and righteous authority as we get older and relationships change.

In their book, Christian Life Patterns, EE and JD Whitehead say flexibility and tolerance are important in developing and strengthening the resources of intimacy in the broader social context of close friendship, group solidarity, sexual love, social experiences of cooperation and competition, combative relationships, inspiring encounters with others and the experience of intuition from within oneself. Intimacy, the Whiteheads say, involves an overlapping of space, a willingness to be influenced and openness to the possibility of change. There is a risk in sharing. Only a strong and flexible identity can move towards true intimacy.

In developing competence in intimacy, we confront the need to reconcile the risk of being changed as we are drawn towards self-disclosure, perhaps coming to a different awareness of ourselves. Should we maintain a rigidly defined identity prone to isolation, mutuality essential to good conversation, becomes unlikely. Premature “identity foreclosure” of either too diffuse or too rigid personal identity leaves little room for self-exploration essential to achieving competence in intimacy required in a mature adult.

Information can be shared easily on Facebook, text and email. True enriching engagement with others, especially others beyond immediate peers, requires deeper personal development to enrich the present by drawing from elders and others to create a vision for the future and avoid errors of the past.

Millennials

Conversation is more difficult in a post-truth world inhabited by Millenials, where communication is horizontal between peers, disconnected from less technically competent olds, who struggle to gain a level of competence with the iPads, emails and smart phones. Nowhere is post truth malaise more evident as in a study showing 62% Millennials believe socialism to be a preferable form of governance, as found in a recent in-depth survey of those born between the 1980’s to 2000.

Quite unbelievably few Millennials surveyed were aware of dictatorial communist and socialist leaders and their impact – Hitler, Mao, Lenin, Stalin and Pol Pot. Ignorance may be a function of educational focus on global warming, gender fluidity, #me and black arm band virtue signaling. Yet, rule under ‘fairer’ socialist ideals cost the lives of over 100 million people in the 20th Century, destroying the fabric of families, communities, economies and countries. Negative outcomes from socialism are recent enough for older people to remember the horrors, never to be revisited, despite the limitations of democracy and capitalism.

Socialism is merely one area Millennials’ might and power of communication competence tends to override the wisdom of previous experience. Rigid unwillingness to be open to the truth, limits growth to maturity and capacity for true engagement in meaningful conversation.

The Essentials

Not all conversations are deep and meaningful: casual exchange of information and arrangements form the bulk of conversations. However most of us have had the experience of coming away from a conversation disillusioned, disheartened or dismayed and wondered why, what happened?

For a conversation to be beneficial, elements that come into play to some degree include, and are not limited to:

  • Presence – Participants in a conversation need to be present to one another, i.e. open and aware of others, rather than preoccupied with a particular device as in the illustration above, or impatient to get back to it. A woman who went to considerable effort to prepare a home cooked meal for her extended family swore “no more” after everyone attending was consumed with their devices and none showed interest in, or appreciation for, the meal or for each other. Co-dependence on technology has major negative impact on relationship quality and meaningfulness.
  • Listening – It’s important to be predisposed to hear what others may have to say, open to hearing the end of the comment before jumping in with whatever may be on our mind.
  • Honesty – Good communication builds on honesty and trust. We need to be humble and courageous enough to be honest, even if it means owning up to our own limitations.
  • Pride – Pride of sensitivity tends to be affirmed as virtuous by the prevailing outrage industry, yet those who are easily offended suffer poor self-esteem, making it difficult to have a one-to-one conversation, unconsciously controlling what may be said to them and how. Those imbued with pride of authority tend to discourage alternative points of view that might be enlightening and enriching. Being the sole authority is hardly conducive to lively conversation. I have been turned off by people who have been unnecessarily accusing and bullying.

Reflecting on conversation’s essentials, we can see the importance of achieving competence in the young adult tasks of intimacy and mutuality, as well as refreshing those resources at other stages of life, if we are to be enriched in communication with others, technology aside.

Enrichment

We are all social beings who have an inborn need to mix with others. How well we do that depends on how well we converse, so it is worth putting some effort and consideration into improvement.

Respect for others also helps, regardless of their age, as everyone has a story.  Fun, Friendship and Fellowship over 40 Years, a book produced by Di Perkins, proves as much. Di interviewed the remaining 40 women of a group of 80, who began meeting once a week 40 years ago. While at first the women were reluctant to share, Di’s willingness to listen carefully enabled gems of life stories to be captured that otherwise would have disappeared. Having been listened to and have their stories and precious photos brought to print has been an enriching and cohesive experience for them, even after so many years.

Others develop rules for enriching relationships. Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban maintain the spirit of their relationship by choosing not to text each other. All conversations are person-to-person, by phone or skin-to-skin, underpinning the importance of being present and truly listening.

Technology has also enriched our lives in so many ways. We are still trying to work out how to capitalise on the advantages while fostering healthy relationships and conversation. For technology to become a valuable servant, rather than a means of enslavement and co-dependence, we may need to marry the wisdom of the olds with the technical competence of the young. Conversation will help.