Skip navigation

Every so often in life, you come to a realisation that broadens your perspectives, which peel away minutely the infinite layers of complexity that surround living. They pierce the veil of social obliqueness that governs our collective behaviour. Things that were confusing before, benefit from an infusion of clarity. This collective process I suppose is some aspect of maturity, but is distinctly unrelated to age. It comes from worldly exposure, to the realities and fictions that perpetuate every day life. These realisations are so critical that they are worth recording, lest that tomorrow in our fallibility, we forget these lessons, which would serve us so well in understanding our fellow travellers.

As you will have no doubt astutely noticed, I have felt that I have had one of these in relation to conversations. It has been an oft quoted saying that in conversations, two things are critical: that which is said; and that which is not said. It is easy comparatively to identify the first one, and as to the second one, no one but I fear time and experience, and perhaps your own hopes and fears will be able to explain what is being conveyed there. I certainly have had only limited success. It is to the first strand of information that I want to bring my focus on, because it is the only one I feel that I can have any success at interpreting by myself.

There is always in any conversation the clear first layer of information, what the person is saying, the physical words that come from their mouth, with all their symbols and allusions paired with the inevitable shades, for words are not numbers, of meaning and implication. They are the ostensible subject matter of the conversation, and convey the normal information that is to be imparted during the course of the conversation. I think now of this as the directed layer, that bit of information that they want you to ostensibly extract from the conversation, this is what they hold themselves out to mean. But the trite saying that people rarely say what they mean, or mean what they say, perhaps tells you how much stock you should put in this layer. By all means be aware of what is being said here, sometimes the particular wording of a commitment or a response can be of crucial importance, but do not presume the veracity of any information that one finds embedded only in this layer. Talk is cheap.

The second strand, and perhaps not very far from the first are the accompanying actions, the emotions, gestures and other presentational flourishes that go along with mere words. They are clearly designed to convey information in themselves, and I would argue are a better and more expressive guide than words. It naturally takes a lot more skill to be aware and interpret them, but most of us have some inbuilt ability to interpret a wide variety of facial expressions, intonations and gestures, no doubt because we use a wide variety of them ourselves, and have an idea of what they ought to look like. I think most of us though, simply do not pay attention to this layer, we do not know enough about the language it speaks in, and we rarely if ever give it the attention that it is due in understanding and interpreting an action. Even if we are aware of it, we don’t have the understanding to put it into context, to realise what information we are extracting from it is not present in the direct layer. Often we are only paying attention to this layer sub-consciously. It has been my intent to watch carefully now these actions, whether the crossed arms, or the fidgety fingers, and derive from them what insight that I may.

The final strand, the one that inspired this piece, and is the major realisation, is that there is an intellectual component to the person-reading process of the second stage. It embodies the constant question: Why is this person giving me this information? What information are they looking to convey? What reaction from me are they trying to seek? What information or response do they really want? It is to hone this checklist into an internal process, one that is actively and carefully invoked and considered at all critical times.

The nature of this layer is unfortunately slightly speculative, and I cannot guarantee that I have been correct when I apply this method, but it has certainly in a few conversations that I have had recently proved to be of interest and insight, as well as explaining various off conversations that I can remember from my past. I found friends conveying to me odd bits of information, that I could not understand why they would give to me; what purpose could there be to information like this? But a process of working through these questions has made me much more aware of the true nature might be of what was being conveyed, that certain sub-conscious questions or reactions were being sought, and that my responses answered these questions perhaps, though at the time I was not even aware that they were being asked. I caution again, that I may be reading too much into something innocent or neutral, but it appears to be that given the circumstances of life one has to extract information from where it can be found. Not all questions and answers can be given directly, and people will flinch from a direct response to a question that they might answer impliedly. Moreover some questions cannot be asked in anyway but indirectly, and one has even then to be careful in phrasing.

I feel this is important because I am finally coming to grips with the multifaceted nature of information, that there is a lot more information than I have ever come to grips with, or had the good fortune to learn how to construe. Much of it is concealed in social etiquette and by social niceties, but the signs and the information are there for the extraction if one is careful and willing to bear its asking price, which is merely that one is aware of the here and now, that one focuses on the world as one lives in it, to hear the realities of the now, to feel them, and to think t rather then bask in the casualness. That is after all the prime directive of my world. Think!


One Comment

    • Dom
    • Posted January 10, 2006 at 8:09 am
    • Permalink

    You probably know that people have studied the facial expression in length and is able to tell a person’s feelings just from his/her face. Apparently there are certain muscles on our face that we will have a hard time controlling consciously, but are unvoluntarily pulled when we are say smiling or feeling angry. Perhaps facial expressions are more accurate indicators of a person’s emotion. Even I have stopped speaking my mind so freely — the world is too paranoid and critical for that. If you really are interested in the true message people are conveying, I say go study the face.

Comments are closed.