Duality of Expression

Frown Down

It’s not what you said, it’s just the way you said it

– Joey from Friends

When I’m expressing myself, I wish to be as clear and concise as possible. Therefore, When the words are rendered, the meaning is semantically correct, and leave minimal room for ambiguity. But communication is not just about the message sent – it’s more about the mssage received. As it relates to Emotional Valence, a message being correct, relevant and helpful are not enough. It also needs to convey a positivity in order to sustain that line of communication. Being insensitive to the positivity of personal expression will eventually throw off the valence of that relationship. Fortunately, there’s always a way to say something negative in a positive way.

In a group setting, I have always been considered a Wise Fool. One memorable example comes to mind. When I turned drinking age, I knew about the dangers of alcohol and how it can adversely affect health and mental stability. When around other 19-year-olds, it’s not a popular thought. I would often warn my friends to moderate their intake by saying things like “don’t drink too much”, and “drinking after studying will make you forget what you learned”. Nobody liked me for saying those things, even though I was simply trying to be helpful. When they ignored my advice, I thought that they didn’t want to be helped. I cannot help those who do not want to be helped, i thought.

After repeated attempts through the years to be helpful, I learned that most people don’t want to be helped. And even when I had the permission to help, such as at work, people would often push back on my insights. I’ve got a disagreeable temperament and others around me found me bitter to be around. Finding and keeping friends was difficult. It’s only recent that I learned why, when I had to interface with others around me that share the same insensitivity.

When I talk to other disagreeable people, I found great difficulty in sharing my thoughts with them because I sensed a chance of negavitity. For example, I was recently crafting wooden furniture and used a belt sander in the garage. I was happy to share my work with one of my roommates whom I’ll be sharing the furniture with, but when I shared my work with him, he noticed that I had wood dust all over me. His first thought was that it’s a mess that he had to contend with. He said,

Ooh, dusty. Lots of dust. Oh boy, the garage must be full of dust.

I was taken back, because its concerned tone didn’t jive well with the positive thoughts that I wanted to share. It didn’t matter to me at the time that he made a factually correct statement about a shared problem. It mattered more that he didn’t care about what I wanted to share, and that I would be discouraged from sharing my accomplishments with him again. Even more so, he pointed to a problem that wasn’t apparent to me. I felt repelled from interacting with him further. I’m quite sure that he has no such intention, but it was the outcome as it unfolded.

Knowing him, he made no attempt at deteriorating our relationship. It was a small bump instead of a friendship crusher. But how many times have I made the same mistake in my past? Am I a people repellant? Am I a ‘hard to work with’ and ‘not a team player’ for afflicting negativity? Who’s ever gonna wanna be around a guy like me? Bad vibes can be dealt with by staying away from that person. I don’t want to be that person. I’d rather be nice to be around. I need to change.

Suppose that you are a realist; your world view is neutral. Half your thoughts would be positive and the other half, negative. If each of your thoughts were expressed without a positive filter, then half the things you say will sound negative. And that makes you an asshole to everyone else. Who’d want to talk to you, if it was a fifty fifty between feeling good and feeling bad?

Anything can be said positively without compromising its integrity. A classic example to illustrate duality of expression is glass half-full vs. half-empty. It’s the same reality described in opposite ways. Even in math, an equivalent expression can stated in both ways of addition and subtraction.

b is the negative of a:

The two variables a and b add up to zero:

In my childhood, I thought that if I don’t know something, I should say “I don’t know”. I was being honest and concise. Humble, even. I thought that saying anything else would mean that I’m a fraud for pretending to know. My father would be constantly be frustrated.

Father: What are you going to do today? Want to do something?

Me: I don’t know.

Father: What does it mean to be a good boy? What do you have to do to be a good boy?

Me: I don’t know.

I honestly didn’t know the answer to those qeustions. I committed no crime. It was his fault for not accepting that I didn’t know anything beyond my tiny speck of understanding. Looking back, if I said the dual of “I don’t know”, the conversation would have been more productive.

Father: What are you going to do today? Want to do something?

Me: I’d like some time to consider the options available. Do you have anything on mind?

Father: What does it mean to be a good boy? What do you have to do to be a good boy?

Me: I wish I knew, father. Knowing is the beginning of virtue.

Another example is more recent, when I read some toxic-sounding comments from LinkedIn from a person I respect. He said this in an argument:

Then please just don’t launch any more articles like this. Your comments are silly enough.

This conversation is over. I’m going back to important things. Take to heart how the rest have taken up the cause to try to open your eyes. I hold it to be a lost cause.

I find your argument extremely narrow, selective, and prejudiced

On its face, the words compose to a valid opinion about the article posted; but its negativity masks the underlying meaning and almost says more about the person who said it than what was said. The duality of such abrasive comments would deliver the meaning without the negative connotation. Of course, I’m assuming good faith. If he actually did not want to see such a post, then there would be the simpler option of blocking that person from social media.

Then please be more mindful before launching articles outside of your expertise. Your comments on this need more substance.

This conversation would quickly become irrelevant, unless you develop the ability to consider new perspectives. You can at least wish to be enlightened.

Your comments should convey tolerance for open-minded, fair discussion.

There’s room for non-positivity in open discussion, but it should be limited when applied to people you expect to spend more time with. Hell is other people. Heaven is other nice people.