The Signs of Communication

With communication today, two extremities of communication exist: self-expression and speaking with discretion. Self-expression, or speaking openly on any topic without much censorship or use of etiquette, is common by most of the population. The second, opposite extreme, is speaking with discretion and saying very little in order to preserve one’s reputation. This is more typical of professionals and anyone of class, although it may not necessarily always the case. How are either of these improving the way we communicate? How are both of these skewing the line of civilized communication?

Self-Expression
The first extreme of communication is self-expression which has become an acceptable way to communicate today for most Americans. Unlike other countries, the United States does not have laws against hate speech. What a person says has no societal limitations in most settings. With this increase in self-expression, and decrease in societal parameters for civilized speech, the majority of the population feels they can say whatever they want—and for the most part they do. There is little thought put into what is said. Rather than considering how what is communicated might hurt or offend another, the priority is placed on voicing opinions without discretion, using uncivilized expressions, and being heard.

In the past, social standards influenced improper communication. In Roman and Greek cultures, speaking was seen as an art which had to be mastered before a person was given the right to speak on a topic. It could take years to master becoming an orator. The aspiring speaker had to first learn the art by studying the writings of philosophers, mastering grammar, and learning how to speak. In more modern times, within the United States, social standards set the acceptability of civilized speech and good etiquette. Even a minor comment could eliminate a person from social circles. Differences of opinion could certainly make for a worthy topic of discussion. However, being cordial was expected at a minimum for more vivacious discussions which could lead to arguments. It was possible for people to be accepted, although they might have differing opinions, and still be valued and respected with human dignity.

Within the last 50 years, there has been a shift to self-expression. The ability to say whatever is on a person’s mind is acceptable whether in person or online. There are hardly any limits to what a person may speak about. Open communication is seen as a way to provide transparency and the “honest story” of any person or situation. While this has many benefits, it crosses a line when dignity is stepped upon and boundaries are crossed. Consideration is necessary before speaking with regards to whom a person is talking to, if the topic is appropriate, and the choice of respectful words which are said for a pleasant conversation. Talking about anything can be very damaging. In fact, much of what people talk about has veered away from “ideas” and “intellectual topics”. Instead, what is more common is digressive speech such as gossip or speaking of topics which are inappropriate, very personal or sensitive in nature, or comments which might advertise the negative rather than focus on the positive. There is no preservation of the human dignity of a person. What needs to be said, is what is said, regardless of how it may hurt or offend the other person.

On social networks, a simple post can flare up into a war of replies within seconds. This trolling is often classified inaccurately as a “discussion” and “freedom of speech”. It would be better described as intolerance for a different view which triggers others chiming in to counter the post with an escalating degree of negativity and close-mindedness. These can occur even on simple posts that may not have any intent to attract opinions, but which result in a soapbox of negative, heated, responses. While self-expression allows for openness and problem solving, it can also open the door for adversity. Communication on digressive topics, and intentionally creating unnecessary conflict are examples of unhealthy communication. Speaking about anything without consideration of another person is rude and uncivilized.

The Power of Silence
The other extreme for communication is to choose to say very little or to remain silent. By speaking cautiously a person is more likely to preserve their good reputation. It also provides safety, by finding no partiality to any party or issue. The person remains politically correct by withholding an opinion. In many spiritual teachings, silence is perceived as golden. By remaining silent, a person can reflect wisdom. Remaining silent, a person does not reveal what they know or do not know. Likewise, by not speaking, there is less of a chance of speaking in an unintelligent manner, speaking offensively, or divulging information which should not be revealed. Remaining silent is also a way to absorb heated conflict, inappropriate speech, and to buy in time to respond with a more thoughtful response.

There is a time and a place to speak. George Washington said, “If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter”.  While we should speak out rather than remain silent on situations of injustice, on political views or ways that may affect our life, saying less, rather than more can be a way which contributes to civility. Voicing an opinion without consideration, can breed hate more than solve problems. This is where uncivilized speech occurs. In today’s culture, it is more likely that the freedom of speech is taken too far through the self-expression of uncivilized conversation. Self-expression can be the ignition of unnecessary conflict just to express an opinion. When freedom of speech is taken to this extreme, responding with silence can help swing the equilibrium of communication, bringing it back to more peaceful speech and civilized communication. Knowing when to speak and when not to speak is important.

Finding the Balance with Human Dignity and Respect
Some social and professional settings still have standards for communication, although uncivilized speech is more popular. Realizing that there is a place for self-expression while maintaining a standard for civilized communication is the challenge which we face today. Many do not recognize digressive communication. Being desensitized by the current standard, hardly anyone today questions inappropriate speech which is on the tongues of most and found in media and by leaders. If culture continues to accept digressive speech, it is a reflection on our country, acceptability for digression and lack of etiquette, and is an insult to the right to the Freedom of Speech which we have. The First Amendment was created for Americans to speak up for freedom and liberties for all. With an acceptability of hate speech and speaking on digressive topics, society is infected with negativity, hate, unacceptability, intolerance for differences, immaturity, a lack of professionalism, and lack of human dignity. It shows an inability to communicate and interact with others. For a country which prides itself on being a melting pot, this is not congruent. Although not everyone will get along, there needs to be a greater degree of respect for differences whether it is race, belief, lifestyle, ability, economic or any other characteristic. Valuing differences and human life needs a higher tolerance and acceptance. Inequality will always exist, but human dignity needs to be upheld. Since the primary problem of unacceptability stems from inappropriate speech, correcting communication that is off-balance can help set society upright to a culture with a civilized standard.


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The Pertinence of Privacy and Permission

Boundaries we set for ourselves set a line between areas which we are comfortable allowing others to access and areas of no-entry where our self-worth and dignity are tread upon. Without boundaries, people can easily take advantage of us and cross into areas which would harm us or cause offense. It is healthy to have boundaries set. It defines the person and helps others find it easier to be more respectful.

Without realizing it, boundaries exist with expectations we have. Unless these are clearly stated, it is likely these boundaries will be breached because each individual’s definition of what is permissible is completely different. Usually, it is when these are crossed, and we are offended, that we finally state what our expectations are. It may take having these boundaries crossed by others before we even know how to define them. Likewise, it may take having boundaries crossed to learn to redefine our limits we have and adjust them.

For those who already have a good idea of their own personal boundaries, vocalizing these helps clarify them to others. The most common areas we have boundaries for are:

  • Affection/Sexual (unwanted touches, sexual molestation, rape, sexual boundaries, boundaries of relationships with those outside of relationships, acceptability within relationships)
  • Dignity/Self-respect/Worth (verbal statements, actions of disrespect, public humiliation, disowning, belittling, slander, stripping of clothes, comparing to shun, insulting mental, physical, or intellectual ability, insulting physical features, degrading, stating incapability or unworthiness)
  • Financial (discussing financial information, addressing wealth or poverty, discussing paycheck or salary information, worth of property)
  • Beliefs (religious beliefs, political beliefs, sexual beliefs, ceremonies, or opinions especially which one feels strongly about, respecting the practices of religions and ceremonies)
  • Sensitive subjects (anything which might not be openly discussed or the party is hesitant to talk about, personal matters, family matters, etc)
  • Property (cars, electronics, houses, assets, or what a person does not have)
  • Knowledge of personal information (relationship, medical, personal, social, private information, hygiene, showering, bathroom and toileting, weight, anything sexual related, habits, addictions, struggles)
  • Respect to elders or leaders (parents, senior level family members, managers, political or religious office)
  • Respect to party and minors (adjusting the nature of conversation for the parties intended of any age level, determining what is appropriate for minors, and children of certain age levels)
  • Spying and Eavesdropping (eavesdropping and snooping on someone’s life, spying, using a remote application to view another person’s life, reading other’s correspondence or accounts written or electronic, gathering information of any kind without permission by witnessing, reading, or listening)
  • Failures and successes (losses, relationship breakups or divorce, miscarriages, addictions, bankruptcy, foreclosures, job loss, successful gains especially which put a person at an advantage over others)
  • Associations (associations of any kind for the sake of gossip, wealthy associations, less fortunate, mixed racial, or those which may be controversial)
  • What we share being shared to others (sharing information you were given to others)
  • Generosity (charitable givers may want to remain anonymous)
  • How we are spoken to by others (speaking respectfully to others)
  • Intangibles we value (beliefs, values, ethics, love for God, love for others, family bonds, friendships, reasons for why, rapport, business acumen, attitude, your process, reason for thoughtfulness, ability to lead, separating business and personal)

Boundaries are limits. It is a stopping point which must be observed or else an offense is committed as the person trespassing crosses into an area which is off limits without permission to access.

The more prominent the individual, the easier it is to acknowledge their boundaries, because of their position and for an individual’s own benefit or recognition. For the rest of those in society, we consciously make a decision to respect other people’s boundaries because we value them and find them important simply because of their human existence. Respecting boundaries is a way to give dignity and self-worth to the person. If these are crossed by accident, then an apology is due, as the offender makes haste to return back to what is acceptable either acknowledging that the boundary was crossed, or to ask for permission for an exception to be made. This is good etiquette.

In an idealistic society there would not be any boundaries at all. For the free-spirited person, this is an enchanting idea. However, this utopia can only exist if basic respect is practiced by all, in a society of clones. As unique individuals we all approach “free-will” differently. Some are more conservative, while others will live more liberally. With different life experiences, each person has different boundaries. The common ground can only be found in respecting these boundaries to give worth to the person’s human existence as a unique creation that deserves respect.

—Clean Up Dallas with Culture and Kindness

This month’s topic “May I”, addresses the importance of boundaries and asking permission in everyday life situations, dating, when borrowing property, observing others, and the effects when boundaries are tread upon. Boundaries and privacy are important! Good etiquette asks “May I” and respects others!

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Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition:
When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life

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Untangle Mixed-Up Emotions

by Allison Bottke

Invasion of Privacy: How to Protect Yourself in the Digital Age
by Michael Hyatt

Privacy in the Age of Big Data:
Recognizing Threats,  Defending Your Rights, and Protecting Your Family
by Theresa Payton

Saving Face: How to Preserve Dignity and Build Trust
by Maya Hu-Chan

Video
The Circle
Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega


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Taboo Topics

What are you talking about?!? Good etiquette means practicing good manners. There are 4 topics that are things you should never talk about if you want to practice being polite: Money, Politics, Religion, and Sex.

These topics are sensitive areas either because they are classified or core beliefs. Talking about issues in these categories can cause friction and discomfort to the other person and even be very hurtful. When you are aware of this you respect the other person’s dignity and beliefs. Unless both parties are open to discussing topics in these categories, it is very inappropriate.

Make friends by politely asking if the other person minds talking about a certain topic which may be sensitive. If so, then be open-minded when you discuss these issues being sure not to counter the other person tearing them down and rudely opposing them. Your belief is not the only way. Welcomed open-discussions are a great way to learn from others. However, if these topics are not welcomed for discussion, do not proceed. There are so many other things to talk about. You’ll win a friend and good manners is good etiquette.

[written for @cultureofkind]


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