The Black Hole of Communication

via No, We Won’t Calm Down – Tone Policing Is Just Another Way to Protect Privilege

I’ve struggled with this my entire life, on both sides of the coin.  During my teen years, this was a constant refrain with my father.  He would repeatedly shut me down, unless I came to him in a calm, reasonable and logical manner – just like many of the individuals in this comic.

If you’re human, you know damned well how difficult that is for a teenager, let alone for an adult.

I learned that lesson somewhat too well.  I developed a calm, rational mask that I called “The Robot” or as some other people have described it “The Ice Queen.” It often helped early in my marriage, because my ex was used to an emotionally chaotic  environment – so the Robot didn’t fit his narrative.  It’s difficult to get under the skin of a robot, particularly if one loses his temper.

Thing is, I kept that mask on so long, that it became as much a prison as protection.

Ice Queen / Robot

Ice Queen / Robot

I’ve been fighting to break out of that prison for about 5 years now.

You have to understand, pretty much most of my family are introverts.  Pretty strongly introverted at that.  It’s not that they can’t interact with others, nor that they are uncomfortable with others (they don’t have the social anxiety that a lot of introverts have), it’s more that they simply prefer the peace and quiet of a quieter life.  Frankly, small town life suits them.

After years of considering myself an introvert, I’ve actually been reading up on the differences, and the discovery of the ambivert type.  And being isolated from my normal social circle has helped to make me understand myself in that spectrum.

My willingness to be social or not depends on a lot of things.  The more tired I am, or angry, or depressed, the more introverted I become.  But I also get introverted when I’m in a creative mode, not just when working on art but also when I’m coding.

But too much introversion is bad for me as well.  I get very restless, and it seems like I don’t fit in my skin.  And, even though I am surrounded by family and some friends up here, I still get lonely for my friends in Minnesota.  We’re not too far away in relative distance, but being 2 hours away can interfere with social involvement – particularly if I have no place to crash if it gets to late to drive that 2 hours.  Or, if it seems to often be the case, if we don’t have the gas to let me go.

I try to deal with that loneliness by keeping in touch with everyone.  But, Skype, Facebook and phone calls aren’t always enough.  The more I’ve been away from my ex, the more that the senses of touch and smell are just as important to me as sight. And I’m not talking about “body odor” so much as each person has their own natural scent.  For example, while I can smell the Irish Spring he uses, my boyfriend has an under-note to the soap that is more musky and woodsy (not woodsy as in trees and green, but more like the smell of a good birch fire).  Smelling that, there’s just something in my subconscious that says, “hey, you can relax a bit – he’s around.  You don’t have to worry.”  It’s that feeling of safety and security.  Well, that and the pheromones in his scent that ignites my passion.

OK, another tangent. Back to tones.

Most people react to the tone of someone’s voice just like they react to the words being said.  Tonality of someone’s voice affects the hearing of the expression of the idea/information from them.

Anger, frustration, sadness and fear all have tones to them that can negatively impact the reception of what you have to say.  It makes people uncomfortable.  That’s not always bad.  We’ve pretty much become an apathetic society.  We’re so individualized, so self-absorbed, so centered on our own lives that we forget our choices impact others.

And that’s where the issue with tone policing comes in.

All of those tones that are considered negative seem to the listener to be blaming or fault-finding.  It makes them defensive, even if you are speaking in generalities, not attacking someone personally.  Depending on their ability to deal with conflict, that defense mechanism can simply shut down any willingness to listen in that person.

It’s difficult to find a balance between people, and to communicate the issues clearly.  And the more conflict-avoidant someone is, the more likely they are to act as tone-police.  They realize that the discussion will introduce a level of emotion they don’t want to deal with or confront.  And whether or not someone is speaking in generalization, the person hearing the words and the tone often assume that they are the ones who must change, and that can create resentment in the person perceiving themselves ‘at fault.’

Additionally, many people are afraid of intensity and passion.  It scares them because in our society, we’ve been taught that those are uncontrollable impulses.  They assume that if someone speaks with those impulses that they are likely to attack the listener – verbally or physically, which leads right back to the assumption that the speaker thinks the listener is “to blame” for the issue.

We need to find a way to have these discussions in a productive way, while still allowing ourselves the ability to be intense and passionate.

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Categories: Feminism, Gender Inequities | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “The Black Hole of Communication

  1. “He would repeatedly shut me down, unless I came to him in a calm, reasonable and logical manner – just like many of the individuals in this comic.” – Sounds good to me. I’d want to educate my kids to be able to phrase their statements and arguments in a logical, calm manner. Anger doesn’t prove whether you’re right or wrong. Unless ‘shutting down’ means violence and then… no.

    On topic:

    You’re mixing up two different things: Emotional expression and debating. We should have the freedom to express our frustration, to let it all out. But when we have a debate and we want to prove something, it’s not a time to get emotional.

    Debates must be logical and critical. We need to be able to phrase our arguments in such a way that the content is the focus, not the ‘tone’. Expressing something with anger doesn’t prove anything.

    That said, response to tone is also a logical fallacy. Any time we respond to the tone rather than the content, we make the discussion dumber. “You sound angry!” so what? Respond to content, not to tone.

    • I both agree and disagree with you. Yes, there are good points to teaching your children to discuss issues in a calm, reasonable and logical manner. There are too few parents who seem to do that themselves, let alone teach their children to do so. And encouraging them to take a self-moderated “time out” is also a good choice. That’s where I agree with you.

      Where I strongly disagree with you is in relation to the emotional and mental development of a child. Completely shutting down emotional expression doesn’t teach the child to have a calm and reasoned discussion, it teaches them to shut down emotional expression completely.

      The description of the situation (and similar ones) rarely shares the actual emotional interaction between parent and child. It can be extremely difficult to establish the full impact of the situation, because without that emotional content this type of situation seems to be a reasonable parenting choice.

      There is always a balance that must be made between teaching your child objectivity and reason and teaching your child appropriate expression of emotion.

      PS: Your comments have been reasonable and on-topic. I have deleted the comments I was describing, and they were not made by you. I welcome reasoned debate. 😀

      • I don’t encourage shutting down our emotions because that would make us more irrational. The best way to deal with our emotions is to, first of all, feel hem and then express them in some way that won’t hurt the environment.
        But, as I said, emotional expressions and debating are different things and are best if kept separate. That’s because emotional expression can easily turn into an emotional appeal, or be used as a weapon against the speaker (“You’re angry, therefore you know you’re wrong and try to hide it! GOTCHA”).

        If I were a parent (god forbid), I’d let my child first of all let out all that’s on him/her. Let them talk about how they want to shoot everyone while listening to KMFDM. Then we can talk rationally. If they’re still agitated, then I’ll do the hard work of separating tone from content and respond to content.
        If I want my kids to be rational, I’ll first of all try to be rational myself and not tell them “You’re angry, therefore you’re wrong”.

      • That is exactly the kind of situation that I was trying to get across. The weaponizing of logic (consciously or unconsciously) is where the problem lay between myself and my father, due to his own emotional unavailability. I can thank him for teaching me the need for calm, reason and logic in a discussion, but not for the other side of the coin.

        I’ve struggled for a long time to be able to actually process my emotions, rather than suppress them. Reason is necessary in the adult world, but not at the expense of a healthy mind and heart.

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