Various bits that ended up loosely connecting in the end.
Having established go-to answers can blind people to other answers. Not quite the Einstellung Effect, I think, but may be related.
Example no. 1: I was told that a drill had an inherent flaw. It is absolutely correct that that drill has that flaw. However, it also has another HUGE flaw, which is damn obvious when you think about it… but I hadn’t thought about it because I already knew about its flaw, because we’d been told what it was… Not unlike being told that a used car has a problem, and assuming that it means that it has no other problems, because they’ve told you about the problem it has… And I want to kick myself for being that dumb.
Example no. 2: Somehow, we got talking about anorexia, and the convo immediately went on to the “it is a control issue” and “Western society’s messed-up body image/food issues.” I know too many people (though for me one would be too many, given the subject matter) for whom anorexia was an attempt at rewinding puberty, because of the problems their sexual development brought them. Imagine, if you really want to, your male relatives going virtually overnight from treating you like a little princess to treating you as a sex object, your consent notwithstanding, or your female relatives treating you like a slut because you cannot hide the fact that you are becoming a sexual being. Or, for a super fun time, both happening at the same time. When you’ve finished retching, I’m sure you’ll appreciate how undoing that process could be a goal for some. I also know people who learnt that starvation made problems go away, kinda, because you can’t feel as much, and whatever thinking you can do ends up being about food. It dulls the world, not unlike drugs, but unlike drugs it doesn’t cost any money. But having two very commonly applicable answers means that other possibilities are not often considered.
Messages you’re not intending to communicate can still be communicated, and people will respond to them. Signs and symbols, in particular, are far from universal.
Example 1: at VioDy there was a guy wearing a “we are Newtown” t-shirt. To me, that meant “anti-gun,” because that slogan was taken up following Newtown by a bunch of anti-gun people I knew at the time. To the other European in the room, that meant precisely nothing. To the guy wearing the t-shirt, that meant purely allegiance to his home town – he was born and bred in Newtown. Hijinks ensued, until the miscommunication was clarified. That required us actually using our words. But first, it required someone pointing out that there was a miscommunication problem, because we were all sure that we all knew what the slogan meant. And it required us all still being willing to talk to each other despite that assumption.
Example 2: fences. Both kinds. I was talking to Kathy Jackson about how one of my concerns when in the US is that I can’t recognise the markers of trouble spots in urban architecture. Where I live, I can look at a house or a street, read certain signs, and decide to go elsewhere. In the US, not so much. Most areas tend to seem nice, and I have to be told that I’m in a bad neighbourhood. Kathy explained to me about “grudge fences”. Turns out that certain types of fencing mean precisely the opposite in the UK and US.
In self-defence, people still talk about the “fence” position as a way to look meek and mild while getting ready to attack. That would work beautifully, if it wasn’t so widely known. If your attacker or witnesses know about the fence, you’re sending out a clear signal.
The two things – jumping to answers we already have and mismatches in the meaning behind messages – can combine to produce giant failures in communication. If people are used to a behaviour representing a mental state or attitude, they will assume that anyone displaying it is affected by that mental state or attitude. They will respond to what they think you are communicating. This can cause serious issues when you don’t even know that you’re communicating it (i.e. to you it’s the norm, because that’s how you do things at home), or when it is the result of completely different underlying mechanism. For instance, there’s many reasons people may act like class clowns; some benign, some sad, some toxic. People who already have their answer are likely to interpret that message in the one way they know.
If you’re sending a message, knowingly or unknowingly, whose responsibility is it to make sure it’s not misunderstood?