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Nov 6, 2017

Not every idea is a directive

Everyone has had an experience of not being take seriously, when your ideas and suggestions are being just ignored or dismissed. The experience is more common among women in male-dominated professional cultures, but most people can relate to it. It does not feel good, let us just say that. However, there is another interesting kind of experience when you are being taken too seriously. You may just want to bounce an idea off someone, and people interpret it is a defnite proposal, a directive, or, even as a part of a hidden agenda.

Mikhail Bakhtin has an interesting theory about that. According to him, Dostoevsky described in a couple of his novels a phenomenon when a listener fails to perceive the inner dialogicality of a speaker’s voice. Any utterance, according to Bakhtin, is addressed to someone, and any utterance is a part of a dialogue, even if it appears to be standing alone. Our thinking is not monological, it is an endless dialogue with past, present, imaginary, and real others. The assumption that someone may have an internally consistent, coherent mind is almost always wrong. Anyway, here is the quote.

At first Smerdyakov perceived Ivan’s voice as an integral monological voice. He hearkened to his preachments on the permissibility of all things as to the word of a called and self-confident teacher. He did not at first understand that Ivan’s voice was divaricated and that his convincing and confident tone was intended to convince himself, and not at all as the completely convinced transmission of his view to another.
Analogous is the relationship of Shatov, Kirillov and Petr Verkhovensky to Stavrogin. 
Each of them follows Stavrogin as a teacher, accepting his voice as integral and confident. They all think that he spoke with them as a mentor speaks to his pupils; in fact he made them participants in his endless interior dialog, in which he was trying to convince himself, not them. Now Stavrogin hears his own words from each of them, but with a firm, monologized accent. He himself can now repeat these words only with accent of mockery, not conviction. He was unable to convince himself of anything, and it was painful for him to listen to people who have been convinced by him (Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis, 1973), 220–221)
What Dostoevsky describes, is an extreme, like anything he describes. People do not turn my ideas to hasty actions, thank god, and neither do I do that to others. Yet sometimes people read too much into what I am saying, as perhaps I read too much into what other people are saying. 

Why does this happen? Is it our inability to convey the difference between where we state a position, and when we just think aloud? Or is it a function of certain lingering distrust with the organization? Is it both? An even more – is this even avoidable, or do we deal with the normal level of noise within any human communication?

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