Communication

The second stop on this philosophical journey is “communication”. Here, I thought I would be at home because my work and much of my formal education has focused on communication. I wasn’t surprised to find McCarty saying “People are hungry for conversation”, nor was I shocked when she suggested that we have forgotten the central importance of communication. I settled into my reading, thinking that I was on familiar ground. But then, I got to the heart of the chapter, and I suddenly began to wonder where she was going with this chapter.

The first philosopher she chose to focus on was Karl Jaspers. This was a name I recognized from my study of psychology, but I couldn’t recall him having said much about communication. Psychopathology, yes, but not communication. Obviously, I had much to learn about this man.

From McCarty I learned that Jaspers thought “successful, ongoing communication is critical for the survival of the human race” not only because it “helps us cope with the tension, perplexity, and doubt that come with the human condition,” but also because it allows us to forge the kind of “soulful dialogue” Jaspers found necessary for “strong communities that make peace possible.”

Marked as his theories are by his personal experiences in the second world war, it is not surprising that Jaspers was interested in finding a path to greater peace. What is interesting is the role he saw communication playing in securing this peace, for as McCarty points out, “far from preventing dialogue, human differences provide the strongest motivation for us to join together.” In fact, McCarty states that Jaspers believed “it is easy to seize an opinion and hold on to it, dispensing with further cogitation; it is difficult to advance step by step and never to bar further questioning” (40).

So, as Jaspers states, we need to be open to communication with all people if we are going to have strong communities. We cannot retreat into our ideological camps, refusing to concede anything to those we oppose. This idea resonates for me in the context of the polarization that has occurred in the United States in the past few decades.

With the internet, more people have the freedom to express their ideas publically, but the evolving nature of the internet has guaranteed that we have increasing interactions with others who reflect our beliefs, and less and less contact with those who have differing views. The result is a breakdown in communication between people on different sides of an issue, which then translates into ever-increasing distrust and alienation. In this climate, it is no wonder many people feel a breakdown of community.

The cure, as McCarty reminds us, is within our grasp. We just need to heed the call. “Get real. Find yourself. Drop your sense of superiority. Trust. Communicate. Experience the fullest life. Strive to sustain active communities. Deal with difference. Take a hard look at your country. Talk together. No more hide-and-seek. Go to the mat and wrestle, lovingly (41)” Ah, if only this were so easy.

However, as McCarty reminds us in her discussion of Anzaldua, “loving struggle requires both parties’ willingness to enter fully into the world of their conversation partner – to imagine a life perhaps quite unlike one’s own and welcome an introduction” (44). Therein lies the rub, for as Anzaldua’s work illustrates, “there are dangerous psychological borders that separate us, threatening to proclaim domination. These borders quiet the different voices and cement superiority” (45). We must find ways to break down these borders, to build respect, to give voice to the marginalized and the other that their experiences may come to be reflected in and ultimately to strengthen our communities.

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