Friday, March 2, 2018

May Thoughtful Honest Public Dialogue Prevail

     It's generally considered a good thing to be an assertive person; I don't mean aggressive, that's different.   If being assertive looks like standing up straight, aggressive would be a forward lunge and passive might be leaning backward.

   And me, I must admit that I find myself leaning back in the public conversations of the day.  I find myself wondering about the scope of my vantage point, the validity of circumstances as presented and the possibility of hidden implications and unforeseen consequences of the proposals and platforms of the day.  It is a lot to sort through.

    I find myself listening carefully to others' assertions and though I believe that well-honed common sense is often enough, I recently ran across some notes from a class my husband took years ago with a more formal review of how assertions can be sorted out. I decided to flesh the notes out with some examples and found it helpful to put names on what I tend to do intuitively.  Perhaps you might find it helpful too.

To begin I started thinking about the word "assertion" and made a list of synonyms:  
 a declaration
 a contention
 a claim
 an opinion
 a pronouncement
 an avowal
 a protestation
 or simply a statement.  

Judging the acceptability of specific assertions begins with recognizing what type of statement it is.
*What's the assertion based on?
* Is it a description, an interpretation or an evaluation? 

 Three general types of Assertion  with an example in italics

1. Description  (based on the senses, or       experience)
    a. 1st hand     This is what happened to me...
    b. 2nd hand   This is what he told me...

2. Interpretation (based on various derivations of meaning)
    a. Internal states  I know what he was thinking.
    b. Causal relationships.  Causality is, by definition, interpretive, the answers we can give to "why" questions involving such causes as material, form, agent and end. In other words,  physical realities, circumstances, human actions and choices, overarching purposes or agendas. I had no choice, I had to build the fence strong enough to keep my cows home and it was the only material I could afford. 
    c. Comparisons and contrasts  Scales of 1-10, less or more... This is more important than that... 
    d. Categories or alternatives:  qualities or chain of events according to type. What might be appropriate for adults may not be for children.

3. Evaluation  (based on approval or disapproval - emotive language) I don't care if it is legal, it still isn't right.
Of course one assertion could and often does involve all three types of assertions; a first or second hand description, interpreted and emotionally evaluated. 

And then there is the matter of whether a statement is:

1. Presumably true ( in favor
2. Questionable (creating a burden of proof
3. False

Vouching sources for determining validity include:

A. Our own sense experience/ reason
B. Personal Testimony  
     (While sources A & B can receive
     presumption, that is, be assumed true unless further information  proves otherwise, neither A nor B sources can speak for assertions of interpretation or evaluation.
C. Common Knowledge
D. Expert Opinion ( sources C & D can ameliorate the burden of proof)

The likelihood is, even without formally thinking about such distinctions, they are operating in your daily listening and responding; but if you'll allow me an assertion of opinion, it's worth the effort to renew and increase our communication skills consciously, for no matter the issue, our public dialogue needs thoughtful and honest tending. 



Martha said...

I like your analysis! I want to be assertive, and not have it mistaken for being aggressive. Sometimes, I am passive as a result. You've encouraged me to make sure I'm not too passive.

John said...

A wonderful sentiment, and one I wholeheartedly endorse. If we could remove the emotional vitriol and seek first to understand we open the potential for honest dialogue. But that is hard as it requires, as you assert, for people to determine the nature of opposing views and their validity.

It would also ask those who've held views or positions that are demonstrably invalid to alter them, and it seems as an interested observer of society that is the harder challenge.

Thank you for sharing.

Jeannette said...

Thank you for the encouragement, Martha. You have some very dear people watching you too and one of the strongest ways they learn is mimesis, so having a stately demeanor in difficult circumstances is extra important, isn't it? Our cautions and desires to be supportive and loving do make it hard sometimes to distinguish the fine line between standing up straight and being too yielding. As far as others thinking you aggressive, It is ultimately more important that you know you are being rightly assertive than how others characterize you.

Jeannette said... do just fine in these departments...just fine! Thanks for your kind words.

Sharon Wilfong said...

I have a prophet personality so I believe in thinking logically and supporting one's argument with facts not feelings. However, I need to learn to be a little less sledge hammer in my delivery. It's hard for me but if the objective is to persuade I need to not make the other person feel defensive.

Thanks for a thoughtful commentary.

Jeannette said...

Hello Sharon, Yes, rather than have the old "I would rather be a hammer than a nail" song playing stealth in the background, we might to envision some well polished intricate but nailless joinery. The important nails of history were, after all, already pounded and their intended purpose transcended,
Thanks for coming by and sharing.

GretchenJoanna said...

I don't think Mr or Ms Anonymous IS reading at all - otherwise how could they call you "overly skilled"? Maybe they are saying you are overly assertive? Anyway, I think you deserve better comments, more like the ones to which people have signed their names here!

At the risk of being as vague as anonymous commenters, I thank you for a wonderful post! I know that my whole life through I have alternated between making silly statements and making faint effort to evaluate others' statements.

You were right, i do appreciate the metaphor that isn't always just a metaphor, of standing up straight or etc. Maybe I should just start with the physical effort not to slouch in any direction. Lord, have mercy!

GretchenJoanna said...

Another problem I have was described thus by Mark Twain:

"A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

Jeannette said...

Dear Gretchen,

I imagine that the anon commenters could be young students learning English as a second language. On the other hand, I suppose they could be robotic trolls with odd grammar and syntax programing.

Beyond the hopes of more conscious discerning listening in the public square…it is of course the heart behind the communicating that makes much difference and I suppose that the hearts beats strongest when the vessel isn’t slouched, as you say, in any direction….so I join you in asking for that mercy.