Look Left, Look Right

Authors note: The following definitions only take a moment to read despite the space they fill on the page. While they are not explicitly required reading for the following piece they will add context and depth, use your best discretion.

Definition noun \de-fuh-ni-shun\
1. an act of determining; specifically : the formal proclamation of a Roman Catholic dogma
2. a statement expressing the essential nature of something

Label /la-bul/
a small piece of paper, fabric, plastic, or similar material attached to an object and giving information about it.

attach a label to something.

Short·hand noun /SHôrt-hand/
1. a method of rapid writing by means of abbreviations and symbols, used esp. for taking dictation.
2. a short and simple way of expressing or referring to something.

Objective adjective
1. of or having to do with a material object.
2. having actual existence or reality.
a. uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices: an objective critic.
b. based on observable phenomena; presented factually: an objective appraisal.

Subjective adjective
3. belonging to, proceeding from, or relating to the mind of the thinking subject and not the nature of the object being considered.
4. of, relating to, or emanating from a person’s emotions, prejudices, etc. subjective views
5. relating to the inherent nature of a person or thing; essential

Generalization noun
1. the act or process of generalizing.
2. a general statement, idea, or principle.
3. a) a proposition asserting something to be true of all members of a class or of an indefinite part of that class.
b) the process of obtaining such propositions.
4. the act or process of responding to a stimulus similar to but distinct from a conditioned stimulus.

Usually the dictionary and I get along famously. It is after all one of the few people (see; the Greek ‘Persona’ if you’ll pardon a bit of linguistic animism) who doesn’t infer that I’m being pompous in using the words I find most suited to describe my subject and intentions, even when those words sometimes stray into or beyond the tri-syllabic. Sometimes, however, the dictionary and I come to loggerheads. This usually comes as a result of my taking dictionary’s neatly prepackaged terms & definitions out of the lab and subjecting them to stress testing in the field. Dictionary it seems, while a great orator, isn’t a very adept listener.

We live in a culture rife with labels, both tangible and metaphorical. They are useful tools, keys to opening up new dialogs. Strangers meeting for the first time employ these keys to unlock otherwise sealed avenues of communication, but what happens when these keys become walls? When rather than direct our attention to a general idea or sentiment, allowing us to hone in on a subject and share it, they become points of demarcation, dividing lines to which some sacrosanct or taboo status is ascribed.

The particularly charged subject of sexuality provides examples of this phenomena. Surrounded by the thicket of complexity and diversity of individual relationship dynamics, conversational sign posts are both useful and welcome. Being able to use short hand such as, “She went to the movies with her girlfriend and her husband thought…” saves a lot of time for someone trying to relate events to a person not directly privy to the context being described. Let’s look at another slightly different example, “He went to the movies with his boyfriend and his wife thought…”

Anyone read the implied context of the second sentence different from the first once the gender roles were swapped? This is where things get tricky. Categorical labels such as husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, daughter, son, mother, father, et al, are wonderfully useful for drawing attention to the general vicinity of a real situation, but once there they must be abandoned for an open honest assessment of the actual situation or our own external biases will distort the image of what is actually in front of us. Our sentences above could easily apply to many very diverse scenarios, and based solely on what I’ve written above we actually know almost nothing about what is happening in either case, but the mind naturally seeks meaning and in the absence of actual information will often infer meaning. Meaning that may or may not be accurate or even pertinent to the reality of the situation. Our movie goers from above could be out with friends, in the midst of illicit affairs, setting up a con, part of a sting, just out on a wholesome date, or even the very same people… wait, what?

Even terms as seemingly straightforward as “he” and “she” may be used differently in different contexts, and can in many contexts even be applied to the same individual regardless of biological traits. Ok, but how can someone with a wife/husband at home be on a wholesome date with someone else? Again we encounter presumption, attributed meaning which may not apply to reality. The husband/wife couple may be amicably separated, or in the process of divorce, or married for the sake of improved tax and/or citizenship status, in a consensual non-monogamous marriage, or in a platonic marriage for the sake of social or legal appearances. The list goes on, but regardless of examples the point is simple: just because something is common or prevailing within our own context neither means it is common outside of our context, nor that it is true of a given specific context presented to us. Often, ascertaining the actual situation is only moderately difficult, but no matter the level of ease, it’s an action unlikely to be taken if we allow inferences or presumptions to preempt a conscious address of the questions present.

I’m fond of saying “reality is collaborative, truth is personal.” Social interaction, with all of its implications both physical and otherwise highlights this, as well as the need for open ,i.e. actively unbiased, communication. I’ve seen many people hurt over the years by someone they cared for. This happens within families, romances, friendships, indeed any personal dynamic to which an individual can ascribe intimacy or significance. In these cases it is not uncommon for the feelings of “betrayal,” often more accurately defined as feelings of being let down, to cut deeper than any reaction intrinsic to the actual events. Context matters. A trusted individual slapping away a biting insect understandably evokes responses widely different from that same person suddenly slapping you for no apparent reason. I have been thanked countless times for my “wisdom” and “insight” in repairing breaches between intimates. I put the prior words in quotations because I feel what I do is rather simple. Most of the time I’m merely reminding each party that perhaps the other did not intend to evoke those feelings of being hurt or let down, giving them license to move beyond their internalized assumptions and into an active, if sometimes exposing or uncomfortable, interaction regarding the intents and motives of those involved.

Look left. Look Right. Two terms which according to my friend, Dictionary, have diametrically opposed meanings, but which when applied to any tangible context are purely situational and subjective, just ask any astronaut spinning in “Zero-G.” The same is true of all labels and terms, to one degree or another and it behooves us to remember that these words are tools, keys to open pathways to intimate, or at least commensalistic, interactions. To treat them as categorical boxes of meaning and definition into which we can place situations or people, allowing us to “know” about them prior to taking an unbiased survey of the situation is, according to my friend Dictionary, a form of pre-judgment commonly referred to as prejudice.

About the Author: Justin Nafziger

Hello everyone. I’m much better at self-analysis than self description; besides, you’ll get an idea about my views in reading what I post. I’ve grown up traveling and in all the time I’ve spent seeing new places, people and things I’ve come to one clear conclusion; real meaningful moments and interactions don’t have to be permanent to be valuable, but they do have to be honest or they’ll be leached of meaning.  Oh and that ethics (aka integrity in action) is a very personal proposition and cannot be successfully codified or dogmatized.

“There are as many truths as there are drops of water in the ocean and grains of sand on the beach.”

Reality is collaborative, truth is personal.

2 thoughts on “Look Left, Look Right

  1. Pingback: So Long as You Aren’t Doing Anything “Wrong” | Chaos Section

  2. Pingback: Chaos 2013: Year in Review | Chaos Section

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