We’ve all been there.
We’re in a conversation with everyone speaking perfectly slang English, and someone says “…I don’t have the language for it.” And what they mean is, though I may be able to safely assume that jargon and precise English vocabulary exists to describe X, I don’t know it and can therefore not speak as precisely or as intelligently as I would like to.
I’ve seen a version of this play out first-hand.
On one particular month of my Thai classes my class consisted of a two Koreans, and three native Japanese speakers. Before classes even started, they had cleverly arranged themselves to facilitate easy conversation segregated according to language. Being the only native English speaker in the room, I listened to the blend of Korean and Japanese filling the room. This got me thinking…if people segregate according to native languages, will people also segregate according to language subsets?
Put a blend of computer scientists, English teachers, chemical engineers, sociologists, education administrators, and doctors in a room and what happens?
Perhaps the more extraverted of the bunch ‘butterfly’ across the blend, but I wonder how long it would take for people to naturally gravitate towards those understanding their ‘native’ professions or towards those who understand what they went through in their O-chem class, working through a segfault error, or just how wrong something is going in their field? Of course, this is just one data point of connection (career). Perhaps, from our example, an education admin and chemical engineer have more in common because they were both from small towns, had parents that divorced, graduated at the top of their class, and had a difficult time adapting to college. Career choice may indicate some similarities with underlying motivations (which people can easily connect over), but it is the history of those individuals that create the same environments in which those motivations came into being. So we have our question: is the degree of social connection a function of story comprehension?
And this notion that people satisfy their needs for social connection (even if they aren’t prominent – here’s looking at you introverts) from history and motivation has tremendous implications for the creative world.
Those stories from our past are rich because, encoded within them, are the ways in which we navigated them. So it isn’t just what happened, or where it happened, that form the basis to forming a connection, but also the response to the created environment. These ingredients of environment, experience, and response can form deep lasting connections (I’m guessing) when we find someone else (or some organization) that validates it by saying directly or indirectly “I would have done the same thing!”
This has implications for the creative world.
If our worldview is developing the same way as someone else then our art may follow suit. So then this could be the line that decides whether or not we ‘get’ the art we’re looking at or ‘resonate’ with the story we’re reading. From my frequent trips to the Bangkok Arts and Culture Center I’ve found that I am much more likely to resonate with a piece if I know anything about the history of the artist. Perhaps subconsciously I’m looking for something to connect to. In other words, my degree of connecting to the piece was directly impacted by how well I understood the artists story. Would we look at each other differently if we took the time to learn each others stories?
Would we look at each other differently if we took the time to learn each others stories?
Let’s go back to my Thai classroom. There we had people connecting over their language as we think of them in a traditional sense, the degree of fluency (flawless), accent (indication of region), and diction (word choice – possibly indicative of social status) all combined to communicate that “hey, I have a really high chance of connecting with you…and quickly! I understand you, I see you, I ‘get’ you!” And so like a typical human conditioned to crave easy calories – we gravitate towards easy language to form easy connections.
Here’s a list of questions that can arise from what we have so far:
Are people who ask more questions more likely to have more friends?
– because people crave to be understood
Are people who can identify and communicate their story succinctly more approachable?
– because people are looking for things to understand
Are people who don’t share their past more lonely?
– because they are often passed up for connection because people are unaware of what potential connections exist
Can improving the way in which we tell our stories grant us more friends?
– because the more obvious we can make our ‘connecting points’ the more people will want to connect
Can improving the way we communicate our stories impact our persuasiveness?*
– because if I understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, I just might get behind it
…I could go on.
So language matters. Your friends and art and social survival depend on it.
* There’s a book I’m reading (and would totally recommend) called “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most” that takes a look at what we’re talking about here (sort of) and applies it to conflict resolution. I started reading it to help develop my fiction, but it’s had a great impact on my marriage as well 🙂
What about other stories?
Even if people don’t congregate around a profession, or reason for common jargon, do people congregate around outside stories? Think less ‘mother goose’ and more ‘BBC’. One of my English teachers back in high school gave an example when she was explaining the importance of creating an emotional attachment in persuasiveness:
“We need to change the speed limit from 45mph to 35mph on Bowen road.”
“Several children have died on Bowen road because the speed limit is 45mph instead of 35mph.”
So why is the second example so much more likely to get results? I think it’s because it tells a better story. We’re moved. We want to protect children. We have a cause.
I think so often when we approach a political situation (or..eh…scroll to a political situation) we aren’t asking enough questions to discover the story.
I think we’d find we connect much much more if we started asking more questions: gun control, racism, immigration, a fight with a SO. All of it. Maybe we’re just one question away from understanding the story that led them to take that stance. Sure, we probably won’t change our minds about the topic, but it suddenly gives us a deep understanding of where the other side is coming from.
And perhaps this is the chief disadvantage of social media: it only provides enough time to tell one story instead of two.