conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Posts Tagged ‘John Searle

5 Ideas that Will Change How You Talk Today

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3 Philosophers, a Rhetorician and a Social Media Expert walk into a bar…

Since writing ListenTalk, I’ve continued to hear these voices echoing in my conversations at work, at home, at church, in the street, at the curling club (I made that up. I don’t curl. Nor do I hurl.).

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Here’s what these voices say:

  • We have responsibility for others. That’s why we greet people and learn names and acknowledge presence. Our responsibility can do deeper—or not. But it is there from first sight and we all know it. (Emmanuel Levinas)
  • People are not objects. So when we treat people as objects, we devalue them and strip ourselves of excellent relational opportunities. People becoming objects can happen in the workplace: it can happen when the CEO looks down on the vast army of minions. It can happen in the home. But it shouldn’t and we do well to defy this narcissistic pull. (Martin Buber)
  • Words have incredible power. We can say things and, behold, it is so. Like pronouncing a marriage. Or deciding on a goal. This may not seem so, given the river of words we issue, the mundane, seemingly meaningless conversations that make up 99% of any particular day. Despite the great volume of words avalanching through our lives, they do—at times—hold incredible power. That’s why we hang on the last words of a dying person. That’s why we want to hear the words behind our favorite writer—we want to hear them explain how their story or argument came about. You can probably recount a handful of life-changing words right now, words someone spoke to you at just the right time. (JL Austin and John Searle)
  • Our best talk comes when we’re not out to win a conversation. Humans are persuasive beings—we’re constantly trying to convince each other of things. But our best thinking and talk comes when we listen as well. And our worst conversations look like monologue—when someone preaches at us without listening. Those also tend to be short conversations. (Wayne Booth)
  • Say what you will. Unless you live in North Korea or Russia, you generally have the capacity to say what you want. Yes, the current Facebook effect seems to be to say only what our tribe wants to hear, but we can find and build new tribes using social media. This is very important, because the old institutional voices are veering from truth more and more frequently. We need those new voices. We need your voice. (Clay Shirky)

Do you see how any one of those five ideas might impact your conversations today?

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

“ListenTalk: Is Conversation an Act of God?” Get it at Amazon.

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How do ordinary conversations change the course of your life?

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Now available at Amazon and other book sellers.

The smallest things you hear and say have the power to alter the trajectory of your life.

But you know this—just look back at a few of the most innocuous conversations you’ve had—the ones that led to a school and a life partner, or to the career you love, or to breaking with some substance.

ListenTalk rereads some old Bible stories for what God expected in conversation with women and men. A few wily philosophers show up in the book to quiz God—and us—about the power and promise of ordinary talk.

Read ListenTalk and  you’ll come to look for and expect big things from even the most ordinary conversations that populate your day. Because ordinary conversations lead to far deeper connections than you’d imagine in your wildest fever dreams.

Feel free to give the book a 5-star review at Amazon.

Take me to Amazon this very instant with this link so I can order this odd but interesting book.

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No, Really: What does a Philosopher do?

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When Adjuncts Escape

Helen De Cruz has done a fascinating and very readable series of blog posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) tracking the migration of philosophical thinking from academia into the rest of life. As low-paid, temporary workers (that is, “contingent faculty” or “adjuncts”) take over more and more university teaching duties (50% of all faculty hold part-time appointments); smart, degreed people are also starting to find their way out of this system that rewards increasingly narrowed focus with low pay and a kick in the butt at the end of the semester.

Ms. De Cruz has a number of excellent interactions with her sample of former academics (at least one of whom left a tenured position!). I love that Ms. De Cruz named transferable skills. What would a philosophy Ph.D. bring to a start-up? Or a tech position? The answers she arrives at may surprise you.

Why the Nichols Station Apartments look different.

Why the Nichols Station Apartments look different.

I’ve always felt we carry our interests and passions and skills with us, from this class to that job to this project to that collaboration. And thus we form a life of work. Possibly we produce a body of work. We once called this a “career,” but that word has overtones of climbing some institutional ladder. I think we’re starting to see more willingness to make your own way—much like Seth Godin described his 30 years of projects.

The notion of “career” is very much in flux.

And that is a good thing.

Of particular interest to me was the discussion Ms. De Cruz had with Eric Kaplan. Mr. Kaplan found his way out of studying phenomenology (and philosophy of language with advisor John Searle!) at Columbia and UC Berkeley to writing television comedy (Letterman, Flight of the Conchords, and Big Bang Theory, among others). If you’ve watched any of these, it’s likely you’ve witnessed some of the things a philosophical bent does out loud: ask obvious questions and produce not-so-obvious answers. And that’s when the funny starts. It’s this hidden machinery that will drive the really interesting stuff in a number of industries.

Our colleges and universities are beginning to do an excellent job dispersing talent. That thoughtful diaspora will only grow as time pitches forward.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Listentalk Chapter 1 Synopsis: The Preacher and the Farmer

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Conversation can be a scattered affair or it can be strategic.

The street preacher tosses out words that may pull in a passer-by. The street preacher might even aim and deliver those words to his mobile audience, hoping to bring some casual listener to a full stop. The farmer also tosses out seed and hopes for the best. It’s just that the farmer plants systematically, knowing she has given her seed the best environment for growth by choosing the well-drained plot of rich loam and cultivating it before planting.

Is dialogue more like words scattered by the street preacher or like words systematically implanted for growth by the strategic communicator? The moving parts of a conversation are put on display by an overview of philosophers Martin Buber, Emmanuel Levinas, JL Austin and John Searle. Context, content, character and intention all play a role in how our conversations move forward. Finally, observations about what makes for a good conversation, including thoughts on control, disruptions, rhetoric and the place of whimsy/serendipity.

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Written by kirkistan

November 19, 2010 at 6:27 am

My Raw Argument for Conversation

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The Practice of Dialogue Rests on Solid Ground

I’ve become intrigued by trying to boil Listentalk down to the most elemental forms. Intrigued because there is a firm foundation for which I can build things on. Here’s what I know so far:

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  1. There is a performative aspect of language. This performative aspect allows language to actually do something out in the world, to make things happen. It is not just that speaking something makes it true. But there is something closely related that is less about true/false and more about perception/reality: when we speak something, it becomes public, it becomes known, it becomes the story we’re going with—unless immediately debunked by those involved in the hearing and telling. So…stuff happens when we speak it. It becomes true…or at least truish. JL Austin, John Searle and others go on and on about such speech acts. I intend to hear more from them.
  2. We do right by others when we treat them as people. Obvious? Yes and no. Martin Buber suggested we often treat each other as objects rather than as people. He talks about “I-Thou” relationships where we treat the person before us as fully-human, whole people. Beings with many facets, interests, parts of their character. We talk and (especially) listen to them as we respect the dignity of their being human. But too often we treat others with an “I-It” sort of connection. That is, the kind of connection we have with an object too often becomes the model for the way we connect with people. We use a hammer to pound a nail, a George Foreman Grill to press a Panini for lunch. It makes sense to use tools in that way. But we mustn’t treat people as if they were objects. We devalue them. People are people. People are not objects placed on earth for the sole purpose of carrying out my personal (sometimes diabolical) will. There’s much more to say about this (in particular from Emmanuel Levinas), but that is the basic argument.
  3. God created and interacts with people. Lest you think I’m writing some humanistic diatribe, both the performative nature of language and the treatment of people as beings of dignity flow directly from the Old and New Testaments. Look at the role of “Word” from Genesis 1 to John 1 to Revelation 22. Words are performative so often it will make your head spin (If your head is subject to spinning) (You might want a doctor to look at that). Watch how the Eternal One allowed for the possibility that words spoken could be rejected. Even the words of the Creator. Even the Word that was a person as well as God.
  4. We’re at a new time when gatekeepers no longer control the discourse. Social media is part of the deal, but not the whole deal. New attitudes about who is in authority, who we can trust and who we cannot trust are in operation. Technology is opening doors.

Those are “Listentalk’s” four building blocks.

What did I miss?

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