Posts Tagged ‘trust’

Labels are devices for saving talkative persons the trouble of thinking.
John Morley

On the other day, I was having a conversation, and the other participant was talking about a person they know who is quite short: “I could start calling him big guy. You know, so that someone would.”

I really didn’t like that idea, and I started wondering why that was.

The distorted mirror

On the other hand, I do understand the emotion behind the joke. It links back to the play signals and trust aspect, at least in my mind. Depending on who you’re joking around with, the boundaries of the jokes may be quite flexible, and if all participants trust each other enough, the jokes can get quite harsh and no-one is insulted.

On the other hand, though, that kind of joking – focusing on a distinct physical, social or mental feature – is like putting a distorted mirror in front of the person. In your words, they hear themselves as nothing but that single attribute, and chances are they’re very aware of having that attribute already.

If all you ever show them of themselves is that distorted, one-tracked picture, they’ll pretty soon start thinking you see them as that person. They may even start thinking they are that person.

This is one of the reasons why teachers need to be very careful when labeling their students as smart, lazy, uninterested, stupid, well-behaved, or something else.

When the student, especially a child or an adolescent, hears their teacher tell them they’re stupid or lazy, or smart and hard-working, they might respond by becoming what is expected of them anyway.

On the other hand, even if the teacher never says the label out loud, it affects his or her own thinking. When looking at the “smart” kid, it’s difficult to believe he’d do anything mischievous, since he is so, well, smart. It’s a lot easier to blame the “uninterested” kid, regardless of whether or not they actually did anything.

The teacher might not even see all the mischief the “smart” kid gets up to, because their mental filter more or less blocks out any causal relationship between hassle in class and the “smart” kid.

You mean teachers don’t sleep at school?

In social relationships, labeling has slightly less dramatic consequences, because the difference of authority and power is smaller than in a classroom. Nevertheless, labeling your friends as “the single guy”, “the party girl”, “the arts student”, “the tech student”, “the jock”, “the shorty”, “the fatty”…  Well, it leaves you with a bunch of pretty slim social relationships.

Everyone is a complex, multi-faceted person. Duh, right?

I and my friend, who plays in the same band I do, have been considering writing a satirical song in the vein of so many female artists. You know, the song about how, like, complex and, like, full of contradictions I am as, like, a person. Uhhuh, as opposed to, what, the simple, one-tracked and logical people that the rest of us are? Give me a break.

We tend to think of other people as far less complex than we are, and to me that’s pretty normal. We only see a fraction of what’s going on in their life compared to the entirety of our own life we’re participating in.

However,  it’s pretty naive to assume that just because I only see the teachers at school, they don’t have a personal life. Or that if a friend doesn’t bring a date to a party, they’re desolate and desperate to find a relationship. Or if they’re an arts student they suck at math.

Labeling, mental and spoken, does just that, though.

Another balancing act

It’s really a question of balance, like so many things in communication.

With “the big guy” case mentioned in the beginning, the two people don’t interact daily. They meet once or twice a week, and of that they don’t spend a lot of time communicating. If this person had started calling their friend “big guy” once or twice a week, that would pretty much have been the entirety of their communication.

The bigger part of our communication to that person refers to their label, the smaller part of it is spent actually finding out about the other aspects of their life. And that’s the part that builds trust – which can then be employed, in small measures, to skilfully play around with the stereotype without assuming it’s the whole truth.

Lovely of you to stop by again, keep catching your own insightings!



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The basis of human trust is established through play signals.
Dr. Stuart Brown

As I mentioned earlier, I’m hooked on TED.com. Since I don’t really have time to just sit down and watch the lectures all day, I multi-task. While doing the dishes last week, I listened to Dr. Stuart Brown’s lecture on the importance of play throughout our lives. Something clicked.


Since I’m approaching the final stages of my studies and the dreaded G word (graduation), I’m inevitably thinking about what I’ll do when I no longer have the security of school and student status. Sure, I’ll be a teacher, and teachers are always needed. How long will it take, though, for me to be old, wise and experienced enough for someone to employ me full-time?

Since jobseeking is a relevant topic for others I know as well, I’ve been keeping an eye on the job market for Arts majors without significant financial or technological expertise. You know what? It’s not hot. Every now and then, I find myself thinking I maybe should have done a more marketable degree, read more relevant minors, acquired more financial expertise and so on.

During one of these soul-searches, I happened to listen to Dr. Stuart Brown’s lecture. Much of it I already knew, having studied drama education for a year and a half now. Still, there were a few points that really resonated. One was the notion quoted above that trust is established through play signals.

Another was the story about play-deprived rats and regular rats. When presented with a cat-smelling object, the rats all ran and hid, regardless of their play history. The play-deprived ones, however, never came out. They didn’t have whatever it takes to start exploring the surroundings to find out if the danger is still imminent or already gone.

Drama as play

Essentially, drama is about play and make-believe. In English, the word play encompasses both the fun, frivolous, unorganized activity and the theatrical presentation of a drama text. All in all, one of the central concepts in drama and drama education is that of play, playfulness and a shared understanding of “creating an elsewhere”.

That shared understanding, I’d imagine, is the very thing that builds trust.

Jokes, flirtation, throwing someone a baseball or watching a soap opera all require a certain mindset both from the initiator and from the respondent. If the initiator wants to play catch as she throws the ball, and the respondent thinks they’re being attacked, there’s a huge miscommunication that might well result in bruising and bitter words. Jokes work in much the same way, only verbally. There, too, the danger of bitter words and emotional bruising is obvious.

That same trust – in oneself and in others – could again be the reason why the undeprived rats started to explore their surroundings and why the play-deprived ones didn’t.

Play is that significant.


I’m training to be a drama teacher. That means I’ll be teaching, instructing and guiding kids, teenagers and adults how to play without feeling stupid about it. Or, better yet, how to play and feel stupid and not care.

Which will improve their communication skills, their risk-taking skills, their trusting skills, and more.

How is that not the single most awesome thing in the world?

How could that not be something people want to learn?

My goal for the rest of my studies will be to figure out and build myself a way to bring that to the people who need it most. A school is a good context for that, but it’s definitely not the only one. By focusing on my future title – teacher – I’m probably limiting my career possibilities.

I feel my dream job is getting closer and closer. 🙂

Thank you for popping by and taking the time to read this – I hope you enjoy(ed) the Stuart Brown lecture! Until next time, keep catching your own insightings!



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If it’s the Psychic Network why do they need a phone number?
Robin Williams

Interpreting what a speaker means from what they say – not always an easy task. Pragmatical interpretation has sometimes been dubbed a relative of mind reading in the sense that we use hints and clues from the other person’s behavior – verbal or otherwise – to collect information on what the person is saying.

As a disclaimer, I have no opinion whatsoever of people who seem to possess actual psychic abilities, and whether or not they use the same senses all of us do or something more.

A lot of indirect communication takes place through flouting conversational maxims – those of Quantity, Quality, Relevance and Manner.

Combined with indirect speech acts, you can end up with seemingly incoherent conversations where everyone is on the same page. Alternatively, you can have a very frustrated listener and a very annoyed speaker who are in different books altogether.

If you really loved me…

Stereotypically, women are the ones often accused of expecting that everyone else knows what they think. Depending on the culture and the person, I’d guess there are a number of men with this tendency as well.

That may very well be a politeness issue: if a person thinks it is rude to flat out ask for what they want, they might drop careful hints and then be disappointed when their hints are ignored.

The other classic example is the “if you don’t know why I’m mad at you, I’m not going to tell you!” -phenomenon. You know, claiming that everything is “fine!” and then sulking around, very clearly demonstrating that this is not the case.

In both of these phenomena, the indirect communicator puts the responsibility of the communication on the other person. If they don’t pay enough attention to infer the right meanings, the message will not come across.

I know I’ve been guilty of repeatedly saying that everything is fine and nothing is wrong, and then getting upset when the other person walks away, frustrated by the lack of feedback. Similarly, I’ve been disappointed I didn’t get what I clearly hinted about for my birthday.

Maybe the illusion of “great minds think alike” is too strong. Of course, it’s scary to admit your true feelings – I want this, I’m upset about that. Maybe it’s easier to reveal just a tiny bit of skin and hope that someone catches the hint instead of flashing your entire emotional arsenal and hope no-one shoots you down.


So now we get to why I’m sometimes very annoyed by indirectness in close relationships. Politeness reflects distance. Indirectness reflects boundaries. Boundaries and distance are all well and good, but there’s something to be said for closeness, trust and honesty as well.

Some time ago, a friend of mine said she needed to talk with me about X, a matter that was troubling her about our situation. We agreed to talk, and I spent a lot of energy processing X, my feelings about X, all the guilts and the what ifs and the other stuff.

We got together, and started talking about X. As we reached an agreement, I saw she was still not all right. As it turned out, X was not the actual problem at all, it was Z all along. Furthermore, Z was something I had never even considered, and was really surprised that Z would even be relevant to her.

We finally reached a consensus about Z as well, but the incident troubled me.

I felt offended that she didn’t tell me Z was the problem to begin with.

I felt hurt that she would think I was a Z kind of person.

I felt annoyed that I had spent all that time processing X, was really proud of myself for figuring it out, and was slapped in the face with Z out of the blue.

And I felt frustrated because I had to fish out the real reason after a reasonable amount of conversation, when she was the one with the need to clear the situation.

A big huge trust issue about a relatively small indirectness thing.


What I learned from this, though – getting the grief and the messy out of the way the first time is well worth it. Politeness and indirectness in big relationship matters might mean that you have to go through all that nasty stuff twice.

Thank you for stopping by, and until we meet again – keep catching your own insightings!



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