The Trouble about Communication
Dear Unknown Friends:
In this issue we publish two poems by Eli Siegel about the biggest matter in everyone’s life: how much should we value the world outside ourselves? And we print part of a paper by Jaime Torres, from a recent Aesthetic Realism public seminar titled “Despite Cell Phones & Email—Why Can’t People Really Communicate?”
Yes: technology has made communication of a certain kind ever so easy. You can telephone a person as you walk down the street. You can sit in a chair in Ohio and exchange views over the Internet with someone in Asia whom you never heard of before. Meanwhile, people still feel, as persons did in previous centuries, that their emotions, thoughts, life within are deeply separate from other people; that even a person one is close to doesn’t know who one truly is. Eli Siegel describes the situation, and the everyday, taken-for-granted emptiness it makes for, in his eloquent essay “The Ordinary Doom.” For example, he writes:
We early come to feel we are not seen right, and it appears we never will be. So we accommodate ourselves to this. It is dull, basic tragedy. In the long run, it is unnecessary.*
That this non-communication is unnecessary, that Aesthetic Realism explains it and enables people to show themselves and be known, I consider one of the kindest, most important facts in human history.
This Is the Cause
Aesthetic Realism explains that the trouble about communication arises from the fight every person has about the world itself. It is the fight, present all the time in each of us, between the desire to like the world, see value in it, and the desire to have contempt for the world as a means of heightening ourselves. Contempt for the world is the impediment to communication, and this contempt has many aspects. In his article, Dr. Torres quotes some of the questions he was asked as part of his Aesthetic Realism education which enabled him to change about communication; and I’m going to present further questions on the subject so that more aspects of that enemy to communication, contempt, can be seen.
The Media Too
But first I want to point out the following: There is not only trouble about personal communication—as husband and wife don’t talk deeply enough, as someone jokes in the office while feeling hidden—but trouble about media communication. People are more aware than ever that news operations, whether print or radio or television, are not communicating all the facts and are often twisting the information they do convey. It happens that the two troubles—about personal communication and media communication—have the same source.
In order to communicate truly, whether you’re a wife talking to a husband or a network broadcasting to viewers, your central purpose has to be: to know what is true and have another person know it. That’s the prerequisite. If you have any other purpose, you may say a lot but you’ll be essentially evading, manipulating, or faking, not communicating. To want to know what’s true is the same as wanting to be just to the world. And so often that’s not the purpose. A wife can prefer managing her husband to seeing what is within him and showing what is within herself.
The central purpose of a news operation’s corporate owners and sponsors is to make profit, and to have the world owned and managed in such a way that they can make as much profit as possible. Therefore we simply cannot expect the news operation to communicate truly. It will do things with the facts to make them serve that central purpose of the network’s owners and advertisers. There are ever so many facts and happenings in this world which, if communicated accurately, would have the people of America disagree vehemently with what the media owners desire. So every day in print and over the airwaves, much is deliberately not presented and much fake “communication” goes on.
Here, then, are some questions about communication and what interferes. In every instance the interference is contempt, as it was in what I just described. To see a human being (spouse or otherwise) as to be managed rather than known is contempt. To see people and reality as existing to provide profit for you, not to be thought of justly, is contempt.
Six Questions about Communication
1. Do you want people to see you as you truly are—or do you want to affect them with a picture of you that you can put forth? If it’s the second (and it usually is), you’ll never communicate what you really feel, because your purpose is fundamentally opposed to doing so.
2. Are you more interested in understanding people, or in whether they like you, are nice to you? Again, if it’s the second, real communication is impossible.
3. Is there a difference between gossiping with a person about how inferior others are, and communicating—trying to see and show yourself honestly? Yes. A lot of conversation is really two people making each other important by lessening other things and people.
4. If you make less of people and the world with another person, will you also be suspicious of that person and angry with him or her? Yes. You’ll feel the person has an ugly purpose and has collaborated with something ugly in you. You’ll distrust the person, and so, unless you’re honest about it, your desire to keep your deepest feelings hidden from him or her will increase—though you may gossip together for the next 50 years. The two of you will also bicker and worse, because you both somewhere know you’ve weakened each other and therefore resent each other and feel ashamed. This situation is frequent in marriage.
5. Do you feel people are good enough to show yourself to?
6. Can you have contempt for people and yet show yourself sincerely to a particular person? No. We either feel essentially that our importance comes from looking down on people and feeling superior, or that it comes from knowing and being known.
The Best in People
There are many other questions. But the fact is that there is a longing in people to communicate, to be known and know another truly. This longing is huge and beautiful and—despite the contempt that fights it—will not die. It stands for the best thing in everyone: our desire to like reality outside ourselves.
The following poems by Eli Siegel contain the greatest friend to and encourager of communication: his accuracy about and love for the world.