The Context Of Equality

Equality is a pretty word, but for a thing that everyone agrees upon is desirable, nobody seems to agree on what it looks like.

I want to divide equality into two concepts – context and contextless.


Contextual Equality
is equality that tries to equalize the outcome while taking into account all the associations of the situation – history, culture, demographic, etc. – or “contextual body.”

For example: Joe and Marsha go to high school. Joe has a hard life – abused by his parents, a learning disability, not a morning person. Marsha has a pretty good life – loving parents, intelligent, eats vegetables.

Joe and Marsha both fail a test and come to the teacher begging for a retake. Should they be treated equally? Maybe – but contextual equality would take into consideration the fact that Joe’s failure of the test is more understandable, and that allowing him to retake the test would be more helpful to him. Marsha has no good excuse for her failure – she has everything going for her already – a good ‘contextual body’ – and refusing her a retake might be the best option.

Contextual equality is behind ideas like power structures, privilege, and affirmative action. It does not view human interactions as happening in isolation, but rather more like two huge contextual bodies summarized in a small point of contact. Calling a black person a racial slur is worse than calling a white person a racial slur, because black people (in the US) were enslaved and white people weren’t. Contextual equality is less for equal treatment and more for equal outcome – if the treatment does not result in similar outcomes, then we must modify the treatment to get everybody in the same position by the end.

Contextless Equality is the exact opposite. It doesn’t care about the surrounding history and culture, it cares about a process that works independently from the personal stories of the people going through it.
Contextless equality would say that Joe and Marsha should both be denied or approved the text retake. Sure, maybe Joe would benefit more, but that’s not the point. The point is to give the children an escape from the weight of their contextual bodies, an environment where it doesn’t matter. It encourages solidarity and community between children by treating them the same, and to promote the feeling of fairness. So many aspects of the world are blind to your personal stories, so getting used to it now will help later on.

Contextless equality is behind ideas like blinded hiring practices – hiding the names on resumes to prevent bias in hiring for jobs. It’s behind standardized testing, behind tolerance of all religious clothing regardless of the oppression it might symbolize. It is more for equal treatment, not equal outcome. It cares about the interaction itself, and whether that interaction is consistent with all interactions. It views the contextual body as irrelevant.

I think the solidarity that comes out of contextless equality is underappreciated by the more liberally minded. Have you ever entered a system where your past didn’t matter, where the standards for you were the same as they were for everyone around you? Various forms of ritual does this – religious ceremonies and military training, for example. Cutting off your contextual body can be incredibly freeing and allow strong bonding with those around you.

I also think the empathy and recognition that comes from contextual equality is underappreciated by the more conservatively minded. Privilege and discussions of power aren’t always an attempt to shame, they’re attempts to recognize and comfort those who feel unheard. It’s how people with ‘worse’ contextual bodies voice their hurt at the difficulty of being around people with ‘better’ contextual bodies.

I personally suspect that intimate interactions are better done with contextual equality, and large systemic interactions are better done with contextless equality. The strength of contextual equality is that it is warm, personal, and it’s very difficult to maintain that effectively on a larger scale. The strength of contextless equality is that it promotes a sense of systemic unification, which can seem very cold when seen close up.
This is why I like the idea of blind hiring practices (contextless and systemic) but not affirmative action hiring practices (contextual and systemic). It’s why I like using trigger warnings with my friends (contextual and intimate) but not telling my friends they should just deal with it like everyone else (contextless and intimate).

I think usually those who look like they’re against equality are really just for a different sort of equality than we are. Most humans want good shit, in the end.

Yes, And I Like It

Sometimes I come up with reasons about my behavior based on my childhood. “I must be overly compliant and afraid of authority/rulebreaking because my parents were authoritarian,” I think. This is a rationalization that gives my behavior meaning – there was a cause (authoritarian parents), a reaction (whatever emotional responses that had – fear, desire for love, etc.), and a lasting effect (compliance). It is a story about myself, not from a cold, distant perspective, but from the inside, from my own mind – what it feels like to make decisions.

This is a narrative that has been very useful and intuitive, and led me to things like dealing with my overcompliance by reminding myself that the world is not my parents, or forgiving myself for overcompliance by identifying the concrete cause of exposure to authority. Overall, the story of “authoritarian parents caused my compliance” is one that has helped me gain control over my actions. Because it makes sense and has worked so well, I think it is true. How could something work so well and not be true?

Imagine my surprise when my Mom read to me notes she had taken about me as a toddler, prior to any age I remember. “Very compliant,” she had written. “very concerned about pleasing those around her.”

The fact that I was displaying these traits before any serious parenting happened was a huge blow to my idea that my parents caused my compliance. Gone was my image of a plucky three-year-old getting the fire snuffed out of her. (Now, of course my story of authoritarian-compliance could still be true. My parents did do things like “hit her as a baby if her cries sound defiant”, so it’s possible that my personality traits mostly emerged as a response to that training. It’s also possible my traits were mostly genetic. I have no idea.)

This instance, among many others, really divorced me from the idea that I was tapping into some sort of ‘actual truth’ when I made up explanations for why I was the way I was, particularly when the causes in question were unclear, complicated, or a long time ago.

It also sort of reminds me of a sensation I had after a long and strange dream. When I tried to communicate the dream, I found that much of it was too ethereal to capture in words – so I described it as best I could, an abridged version, forcing tiny bits of narrative to cover up the gaps I couldn’t explain adequately. As I recounted the dream, I could feel the memory fading and being wholly replaced by the story I was telling – deeply, in the way I believed it. It was an odd sensation, to sense something untruthful become truth to me, but I realized that was the only way my brain could hold on. This tale was now the only access I had. I would have felt uncomfortable, except I realized I had probably done this countless times in the past without knowing it.

In fact, I probably was doing this constantly – not just with dreams or childhood tales, but with every story I told myself about why I did the things I did. In the translation of my life to words in my memory I was inevitably engaging in a lie, because words cannot possibly accurately convey experience. I was a fabric woven out of tales spun from experience.

Everything I thought about myself and my own identity was subject to this. I had the feeling that my ideas about myself were “true” because they proved to be both useful and elegant – but then my idea about authoritarian-caused-compliance was both useful and elegant, and it probably-possibly wasn’t “true” at all! I could not know, and if something is impossible to know then it is just as good as not existing at all.

Ultimately, “who I was” felt like a story I had created in my own mind to make sense of my surroundings. A useful story, an elegant one, but still a story.

This concept of self-as-a-story, as specifically different from self-as-definitely-real, places identity in the realm of self-creation as opposed to world-creation. Doing this grants us agency and is a core for a lot of theories of healing and emotional growth.

Once you buy into the idea of self-as-a-story, once you integrate it as a deep belief, it becomes easier to accept new stories you employ to give direction to your life and identity. A lot of people have a strong negative reaction to this idea with the sense that they are lying to themselves – but the sense of “lying to yourself” arises only when you are consciously saying one thing and your subconscious is saying another. If you truly believe deeply, your subconscious will be aligned, and it will feel like truth. If you feel the sense of lying-to-yourself when trying to accept new stories, then that means you haven’t believed deeply enough yet. Beliefs are malleable, and we can learn to use them like clothes, switching them out as is appropriate for the occasion.

Here I want to talk specifically about engaging a story, much like the ones we employ every day, that is not grounded in reality, but is rather both useful and elegant. (It’s almost certain I’m not the first one to try to verbalize this, and I have a horrifying lack of education in basically everything, so I am under constant fear that my thoughts are already common knowledge, so if this is common knowledge pls ignore.)

The story is called: “Yes, And I Like It.”

It meant to address self-disgust or variations on it. The first step is to identify the thing you’re doing that you dislike, such as:

Getting jealous when your partner meets up with an old fling
Talking about yourself too much in social situations
Procrastinating housework

The second step is to identify, as primally and as honestly as possible, the source or reason for the unpleasantness. For some things this can be very difficult to do and take a long time. Phrasing them as self-referencing is usually the best:

I am afraid I’m not good enough for my partner.
I crave approval of my peers.
I lack willpower for simple tasks.

The third step is to respond “yes, and I like it.”

I am afraid I’m not good enough for my partner.
Yes, and I like the fear.
I crave approval of my peers.
Yes, and I like the insecurity.
I lack willpower for simple tasks.
Yes, and I like the helplessness.

The idea here is that to change yourself you must first accept yourself, and to accept yourself you must first accept your flaws, and to accept your flaws you must view them as intentional. Not in name, not in word, but deeply, truly. You must believe the story of Yes, And I Like It.

(Another objection might be that this leads to passivity and helplessness, but I disagree.)

The concept of liking negative emotions might seem pretty silly, but the idea that we must not like things that hurt is in itself a belief we can step out of, with a little practice.

In fact, we practice it anyway without realizing it. We immerse ourselves in movies with threats and tragedies that feel real, if only for a few hours. Some of us get a little excited when bad world events happen – not because they wanted it to happen, but because badness is exciting the same way it is in movies. And I’m sure most of us as teenagers discovered we had recently developed capacity for complex emotional pain and promptly spent a lot of time feeling all the pain we could at once. Experiences of intense emotional pain while on psychedelics can lead to this sensation as well, usually much more vividly.

We already hold within our minds stories of I like this thing that hurts, even if we don’t realize it. Pain can be exciting, cathartic, or meaningful.

And so learning to believe the story of Yes, And I Like It can take that little dark pleasure and channel it into your life now. It can apply even to things outside of your own control (My mother died; I miss her terribly, and I like it).

Ultimately the goal is to divorce yourself from the narrative that pain is bad. That is an elegant and useful story, but elegant and useful does not mean true.

Facts vs. Truth

Years ago, a very liberal media source interviewed my very fundamentalist Christian father about his very fundamentalist Christian views on homosexuality. The outcome was a well-edited mash of audio-visual tricks that made my father look like a buffoon, saying and responding in uncharacteristic ways that highlighted the stupidity of what he was saying.

I did not feel sympathy. Even if the interviewers were not directly and literally honest, they communicated the “truth” behind his words – that of judgement, of intolerance, of irrationality – which I knew, from living with him, that he actually did feel – calling gay people ‘fags’ and ranting about the ‘gay agenda’ in private. In a way, I thought the interviewers sacrificed literal facts in order to reveal a greater truth. After all – my dad presented ‘literally’ would have showed him selecting his words carefully, making use of persuasive rhetoric, making his position look reasonable – and I believed that his position was obviously not reasonable. So really the interviewers, through their artistic use of interpretation, were actually doing good work with their alternative use of facts.

Several months ago I was stalked and chased down some deserted alleys in Istanbul. When the man charged at me, I screamed, and he stopped and fled, without touching me. When I told the story to my neighbors (who were going to help me translate to the authorities) they insisted that I lie and say the man had grabbed me – because if he hadn’t touched me, no crime had been committed and he couldn’t be prosecuted. And since we knew he was bad, and that he should be prosecuted, we should be dishonest about the literal facts in order to truthfully illuminate his badness.

My point is that we have an idea that sometimes facts aren’t the same as truth. That even if you say things correctly, you might give a false idea, and that sometimes saying things incorrectly is necessary in order to creatively reveal the true nature of reality. We sometimes forgive dishonest portrayals as necessary, particularly if we feel strongly or morally about the outcome.

It’s why we tolerate/love mockery and satire, or impassioned and exaggerated speech. It’s why we’re okay setting aside the ‘rational fact checking’ parts of our brain when ‘badness’ is happening – because deep down, we feel the facts no longer matter. Facts, even if true, can be misleading, can slow us down, can catch us in petty arguments over statistics or history, can distract us from things like protecting gay people or prosecuting would-be rapists. They can be used as weapons against us – if you’ve ever had a debate with an obviously-wrong person who is more technically informed than you, you know this frustration. Facts do not equal truth, at least not deep down in our gut.

And I don’t mean to say that this is bad or good. Was it a bad or good thing that I agreed to lie to the police about my stalker in Istanbul? I don’t care about whether or not this was moral – this is not the question I am trying to answer. Shutting down “caring about facts” has its benefits and drawbacks. All I am trying to say is that we do this. All the time. And to pretend that facts are facts are facts and that we only care about facts is an outright lie. Facts are useful when we can wield them for good, and misleading or distracting when others wield them for bad. We frequently care more about the feeling of truthiness, not the feeling of factuality, because truthiness always feels morally right, and sometimes facts feel morally wrong.

And so when I see outrage and disbelief about how people can support Trump after he repeatedly lies, contradicts himself, or displays a general disinterest in factuality, I feel like those outraged fail to understand this key concept. People supporting Trump are sacrificing facts in order to illuminate their ‘deeper truth’ in the same way I was sacrificing facts when I supported the pro-gay interviewers, when I lied that my stalker had touched me. They genuinely feel that the liberal agenda is ruining the country, and that sacrificing literal accuracy is a minor detour on the path to saving themselves and America. They are doing exactly the same thing that we do, except against us.

It is not a war of fact against fact, but rather truthiness against truthiness, with facts being used as weapons against each side.

If we want to step away from this, we have to be consistent. If I want to condemn Trump supporters for being tolerant of his lies, then I have to stop sympathizing with the pro-gay interviewers and I have to defend my father’s presentation of his views as he gave them. I have to tell the police the truth, even if it means a would-be rapist goes free. If Trump supporters do not get to pick and choose their own truth, then I don’t get to pick mine either.

Choosing Insecurity

I think monogamous people are monogamous because they are insecure.

This is an upsetting thing to hear and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a monogamous person agree with me – but before you start typing out an angry comment, I promise I can salvage myself. Probably.

I have a fear of authority and rulebreaking. The fear is so strong that it sometimes interferes with my life – I have anxiety about being in the wrong cabin in a train, trying to jump turnstiles makes my body physically seize up, and I meekly accept unfair Comcast bills.

I know myself pretty well, so I know the amount of effort it would take to fix this particular fear would be pretty huge. It might take therapy, both the sit-down-in-a-chair and the exposure kind. It would take extraordinary mental effort and discomfort on my part. Would my life be better if I fixed this fear? Yeah, probably – but a better question is, would it be worth it?

My rulebreaking-anxiety doesn’t give me trouble that often. I’m pretty happy being a rule-follower, most of the time. So – should I fix it?

I think there’s a common idea that personal growth is always the correct option, and in a way this makes a bit of sense. If there’s a problem inside of you that limits your ability to enjoy life, then fixing that problem would be better, right? We frequently heighten this idea to a nearly moral imperative – if you’re dating a shitty person who you think you deserve, then you need to break up with them and upgrade your self worth. If you are doing drugs to feel better, you need to quit and get fulfillment out of exercise and good eating or whatever it is normal people do these days.

This imperative applies even if the problem isn’t actually much of a problem. If someone isn’t a drug addict, but rather gets horribly drunk a few times a year whenever they encounter a severe emotional problem, we see that they’re not dealing with things in a healthy way. And even if their alcohol-for-emotions habit is rare enough that it isn’t causing serious damage, we know that this might not last. Emotions can always get worse, and there’s a good chance that in the future, the mild habit now might lead to serious problems down the road.

In this situation, the fact that our occasional drunkard is okay right now seems just a matter of chance – that his life isn’t okay because of his internal strength, but rather because his life isn’t bad enough to turn him into a drunkard… yet.

We could say the same thing about my rulebreaking anxiety. The fact that my life is okay right now might be just a matter of chance – that it’s not because of any strength, but rather because I have the leisure of keeping away from authority figures most of the time.

But of course we can take this idea to extreme conclusions – everything good in our lives right now is just a matter of chance. The fact we are happy and functional might not be because we have the internal strength to tolerate being insulted, but rather because nobody is insulting us. We have a thousand weaknesses hidden by everyday convenience.
And so if we really wanted to become someone who would be okay with everything, we ought to go endure torture and loss in order to reveal and deal with those thousand weaknesses.

But we don’t, because it’s not worth it. Every day we make judgments about what is or is not worth it, and every day we forego personal growth because doing so would be too hard. When I make the choice not to “go to therapy so that I can hop on trains”, I’m deciding that the pain of expanding myself is not worth the benefit I would get from occasional rule breaking.

Most common is lack of empathy when we overlook the great cost of self improvement in others. Years ago, I thought my friend should break up with her boyfriend and improve herself so she could get a better boyfriend – but in recommending this to her, I wasn’t taking into account the pain of loneliness she would endure by being single. When I recommended my friend to quit drinking in response to pain, I didn’t understand that he was making a value judgement in much the same way I was when I meekly paid Comcast an extra 33$ instead of protesting the unfair charge. In drinking, he was making the judgement that working to fix himself without alcohol cost too much pain for the benefit of decreased alcoholism risk.

And obviously risk assessments go wrong all the time. Sometimes people do become alcoholics, or get into abusive relationships, – but that’s what is meant by risk. If they understand the risk they’re taking, then we must conclude that the benefit they gain is worth it, for them – much as people who drive cars understand very well that they might get into an accident, but decide that the benefit they get of transportation is worth it.

And so how can we blame anybody for avoiding “fixing themselves,” even if it goes wrong? The most we can do is make sure they understand the risk they’re taking, and if they do understand, then they are making an educated decision about their own values, and “you should quit drinking” is a recommendation that comes from a position of ignorance.

And so when I say people who are monogamous are monogamous because they are insecure, I in no way mean this as a judgement. They have made the decision that going to the effort of getting rid of jealousy – of dealing with the pain of their partner spending the night somewhere else – is not worth the benefits they might gain from nonmonogamy. This is an absolutely valid decision.

(edit: i should clarify that my definition of monogamy is “when you place a restriction or expectation on your partner’s engagement in sexual activity.” In a situation where two people are totally okay with their partner fucking/loving other people, but just happen not to due to lack of desire or interest in other people, I consider this just passive polyamory.)

But I think it is also useful to be honest with ourselves when we are making these value judgments. Monogamy is due to insecurity, at its heart – that your partner will leave you, and cloaking it under the guise of romantic notions of commitment is disingenuous. My anxiety about rulebreaking is about fear, not about anything noble, or about respecting people in authority, or supporting society. It’s just me being scared. People in mediocre relationships just don’t want to be alone, people who drink during hard times aren’t doing it for fun.

We all are succumbing to weakness, and that’s okay. We should look our flaws in the face, and if we have full understanding of the value decisions we’re making, then there is no reason to be ashamed.

How To Listen

Sometimes listening to people talk reminds me who I am. They talk about their parents, and I think about my parents and how they encouraged me to eat sandwiches crust-first. They talk about that one orgy they had, and that reminds me of that one ten-girl orgy I had in a Las Vegas hot tub. I come out of these conversation with a stronger sense of identity, with a refreshed sense of the stories that have built who I am – a drunken lesbianish, stoic sandwich-eater.

Sometimes watching movies makes me completely forget who I am. For two and a half hours surrounded by booming audio, I’m no longer Aella – I’m the academy award winning actor-character fending for himself in a brutal world with uneasy race relations. I leave the movie a bit dazed, coming back into my life like I’m returning from a dream.

Of course conversations can sometimes make us feel dazed, like movies, and movies can make us feel more strongly in touch with ourselves, but I wanted to highlight that a difference exists at all, and to identify this as a listening spectrum.

On one side is Loud Listening. This is listening we do where we involve ourselves. This is most commonly used when engaged in things like:

Banter and casual conversation: A friend at the dinner table tells their story of nearly hitting a deer on the way over, while listening you are scanning your experiences for deer-hitting stories. When your friend finishes, you start telling your story about the deer.

Emotional advice. You attend a lecture about the warning signs of abusive relationships. With each sign they list, you scan your feelings about your own relationship to see if there is a match.

Similar, personal conversation. You grew up with a crazy hoarder mother and the experience was traumatic and deeply personal to you. On a bus you overhear someone talking about their crazy hoarder mother. You instantly compare what they are saying to your own experience and get off the bus immersed in memories of your childhood.

Silent listening, by contrast, occurs when we ‘lose ourselves’ in what we are listening to; when we assume the identity of someone else. This mainly occurs in things like:

Movie watching. You forget your real life worries while caught up in the dramas of other characters.

Dissimilar, personal conversation. You meet someone who escaped from North Korea. They tell you about the censorship, terrible food, and the concentration camps. There is so much novel information you don’t think about yourself at all.

Learning to model. Your friend comes to you asking for advice with a complicated family issue. Before saying anything you ask questions to try to imagine how they feel and what their goals are, so that you can give them personalized advice that would make them happy.

Loud Listening is a function that identifies how the speaker’s ideas and experiences are different from the listener’s. This gives the listener the ability to evaluate their social status, how well society understands the listener, and how strange/normal the listener is, and so that the listener can take action to bridge that gap.

In banter, it’s identifying shared experiences and speaking them aloud. In emotional advice, it’s identifying society’s ideas about health and modifying our behavior to fit. In personal sharing, it’s a heightened sensitivity to how much people actually understand the vulnerable things we’ve gone through, in the hopes that one day we can figure out how to communicate it. Sometimes Loud Listening can be defensive, where thinking about ourselves screams out empathy we don’t want to feel, or insists we are someone who understands something we actually don’t.

In some circumstances we prefer situations where everyone is loud listening. Improv, dinner parties, teasing in first dates – we expect to be loud listened to, and we loud listen in turn, because we both actively want people to hear our involvement and we actively want to hear others’ involvement.

But the more vulnerable we become, the less useful it is to have someone else involved. When we want to be deeply understood, we want it to be through our lens, not someone else’s.

When someone tells us something deeply personal and vulnerable, the function in our mind that says how does this relate to me? shuts down our ability to empathize. When we’re loud listening to the person on the bus talk about their hoarder mother, we are imagining the situation from our perspective, with our set of emotions, and thinking things like “their experience wasn’t as bad as mine. I would have been grateful to have a mother who only saved her poop jars once a week instead of every day!”

I particularly struggle with this when listening to people talk about religious, homeschooled, or oppressive childhoods. If someone tells me about how they were homeschooled (but only up until high school!) and their church tried to guilt them (they weren’t devout enough to guilt themselves!), my brain screams at me how much worse I had it, and how I would have loved to have their childhood.

But this isn’t fair to their view at all, and when I Loud Listen I’m not empathizing with the actual experience of being a child who only knows that things could be better and now they’re worse. That experience is real and formative to them, my own life be damned. All they wanted was for me to feel what they felt.

This is where Silent Listening becomes a loving thing to practice. My feelings about their childhood come out of Loud Listening. To immerse myself in their feelings about their childhood is Silent Listening, and I think ultimately it’s all anybody ever wants in response to vulnerability.

Silent Listening is easy sometimes, when our own identities don’t spring up in the way. It’s easy for a population of suburban families to Silent Listen to a movie about aliens, because it’s not a common experience – but it’s harder for this population of suburban families to Silent Listen to each other, because everyone’s daily dramas is common and close.

Feeling common and close to someone means that probably many people feel similarly, and thus few people Silent Listen to that person. Thus the more isolated that person will feel in their vulnerability, and the more isolated they feel, the more valuable it will be to them for you to hear them. Generally speaking, the more difficult it is to Silent Listen, the more important it is for you to do so. (It’s very easy to Silent Listen to the defector from North Korea, which means they’re probably used to everybody doing it, and thus it’s less valuable to them.)

So if someone is being vulnerable, Silent Listen to them. Let’s be honest with ourselves about what sort of listening we’re doing, because slipping into Loud Listening when we think we’re Silent Listening dupes us into a false sense of understanding. Let’s not view either type of Listening as negative, but rather conduct them intentionally, so that we’re not lying to ourselves about how well we understand someone.

Let’s find the joy in trying to understand, instead of trying to be understood.

Play Anger

I wish there were a word for anger you don’t believe in.

I mean shallow anger, anger you ‘buy into’ like it’s part of a game. Anger you know would go away if you stopped for a minute to look at the source, but you feel it anyway because it’s fun, because it makes you feel like you’re symbolically supporting some sort of ideology that agrees with that anger.

I feel this anger when horny men message me really stupid things, like “can u send me a pic of ur butthole”. I have no actual right to be angry. I put nudes of myself on the internet, I welcome sexual comments, and I am completely unsurprised by horny men sending me horny messages. Of course. I understand. Deep down I am calm.

But on a surface-pretend level I think lots of terrible insults at them and think of myself as an empowered woman whose body is sacred and powerful, so powerful not just anybody can look at her butthole, _especially_ not people who sends her grammatically offensive tweets from an avatar of a penis.

I also feel this with okcupid profiles when I see people say they’re a feminist. I am a bit skeptical of feminism but I can understand how a rational person would agree with it, and it means different things to different people, and I’m open to discussion.

But every single fucking goddamn okcupid profile aggressively mentions feminism, usually in the first few paragraphs. What do you think you’re doing?? Everyone in your white college-educated town who isn’t turned off by you already is going to also be a feminist. It isn’t brave, it’s unoriginal. All you’re doing is signalling. I want to hit your stupid conformist face.

When I stop and breathe, I know I don’t actually think that. Smart people mention feminism on their profiles. People I like. They have reasons for it. I understand. Deep down I am calm.

I still need a word for the surface anger, though. For now I’m going to call it playnger but if any of you come up with a more clever term I’d love to hear it.

Categories Fun

Conversational Styles

I’ve been viewing social interactions lately through two spectrums – word count and conversational deference.

Word count is simple – the total amount of words peoples say, and if it’s high or low. Some people talk a lot, others don’t talk very much.

Deference is the amount of dominance you use when speaking. When two people start to talk at the same time, whoever lets the other person go is displaying deference. Someone who interrupts is displaying nondeference. Allowing someone to interrupt is displaying deference. Continuing to speak despite indications that the listener would like to chime in is displaying nondeference.

So there are then four categories, and because I have a guilty pleasure of personality tests and fun identity words, here’s my attempt to name the four styles.

High word count | high deference: The Catalyst.
People like this I view as conversationally meaty; they propel conversation forward, fill silences, but easily step back once other people want to participate. They are catalytic, and provide a steady background for the rest of the conversation to take place. When done poorly it can sound like nervous jabber, when done well it draws other people out without pressure or obligation.

High word count | low deference: The Elbow.
People like this I view as conversationally aggressive and forceful (whether they’re aware of it or not). They treat conversation as a service to them and their ideas. When done poorly it’s annoying and pushy, when done well it’s useful in leadership situations and for authoritatively directing the flow of attention to something better.

Low word count | high deference: The Wallpaper.
People like this I view as shy or thoughtful; will typically not speak much and not try to speak much if they feel like people don’t want to listen. They treat conversation distantly, as something they usually aren’t heavily involved in. Can be a pushover or introverted or both. When done poorly it’s indicative of insecurity, when done well it can provide a service of listening and attention that many people crave.

Low word count | low deference: The James Bond. 
People who speak rarely but expect to be listened to; treats conversation as generally unworthy or boring, and only selectively determines it as worth their time. When done poorly it can come across as a pretentious arrogant superiority complex, done well it can be mysterious, dominant, and charismatic.

Categories Fun