Intention-reception for non-native speakers December 14, 2014 11:14 AM   Subscribe

What are the go-to articles or blog posts for explaining that the intentions of the speaker do not trump feelings of the person spoken to?

This topic has come up on Metafilter a lot. I'm now looking for an article to introduce the difference between intentions and reception, and why a person cannot dictate another's feelings.

This is common sense to me, but how did the site make it common sense to the masses? I can't remember where to find the readings or even keywords for this query.

It would be great if the article considered an audience that is not American, British or native English-speaking.
posted by CtrlAltD to MetaFilter-Related at 11:14 AM (35 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Something for ask, perhaps? Also, it couldn't hurt to have a little more background and detail. Non-native articles but in English? And if so, why non-native-because of possible differences in culture? What differences, if so?
posted by Namlit at 11:24 AM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


This seems like an AskMetafilter question and not a MetaTalk question, unless you're referring to a specific Metafilter comment you want us to search for.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:35 AM on December 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


"This topic has come up on Metafilter a lot. I'm now looking for an article to introduce the difference between intentions and reception, and why a person cannot dictate another's feelings.

This is common sense to me, but how did the site make it common sense to the masses?"

posted by qi at 11:44 AM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that the problem you're addressing here is really high on the list of standard problems of human communication: that a speaker who is genuinely concerned about the feelings of the person spoken to must make adjustments in her/his content and vocabulary, to make sure that whatever is being said matches the feel-good patterns of the recipient.

Of course, some people are not in the least concerned about the feelings of others and they just say what they think. Others again do perhaps care about others' feelings but lack the skills, don't have the gift of anticipation, and/or some other mental makeup that makes it difficult for them to understand how others tick. Stuff like that does get talked about on Metafilter--why? Because everything gets talked about a lot here.
posted by Namlit at 11:53 AM on December 14, 2014


[I spoke with the poster and since the basis of the question was about how people navigate this on MetaFilter, I suggested MetaTalk, so go forth and answer if possible.]
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:49 PM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah I know it could also work as an AskMe question and I know my post is poorly phrased. I don't have time to write an essay about all the steps I took to answer the question myself. I was surprised the FAQ did not reference anything about this idea either. I thought the queue meant that the community assumed the mods knew what questions they were approving for Metatalk?

There have been countless discussions over the years about this theme. My thinking was that readers of Metatalk could point me to the go-to piece for people new to the idea that there are things more important than intentions in communication.

I would add that when I have a question, I typically run it by a mod. This is a waste of limited human resources. I rarely have time for Metafilter these days. I find though that the bar for casual participation is so high that as a busy person I cannot casually post my random questions here. I think through all the objections to whatever I want to ask I then decide it is not worth the hassle. That is a shame. I don't think it is anyone's fault. It is maybe something to think about sometime.
posted by CtrlAltD at 1:08 PM on December 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't know if this fits the non-native part of your question, but this seemed to be one of the more iconic articles on this topic.
posted by divabat at 1:20 PM on December 14, 2014


... this seemed to be one of the more iconic articles on this topic.

I'd suggest steering clear of overtly sarcastic writing. I mean, I certainly understand the article and get the point, but I think a lot of readers may interpret aggressive sarcasm as snark and mockery directed at them, which makes them resist the message. Just a thought; I'm no expert.
posted by Mothlight at 2:17 PM on December 14, 2014 [7 favorites]


Much like how intent magically protects the actions of all privileged fuckjobs, intent means that anything you say, no matter how many groups it hurts, what awful views it enables, no matter what systemic bigotries it props up through the usage of language that enforces social concepts that crush a marginalized group, it mystically negates all of that.

Yeah, that might not be the best model for conveying a message.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:34 PM on December 14, 2014 [6 favorites]


I learned about the basic idea on Shakesville, which I recommend to all comers (to read, not necessarily to comment - the commenting standards are very high and it is a safe space). The main article is Harmful Communication Part One: Intent is Magic (If you've heard the phrase "Intent is not magic," it can in many ways be traced back to this article, which was hugely influential among social justice people). I recommend her entire Harmful Communication series, as well as her definition of Rape Culture her Helpful Hints tab that includes a lot of things explicitly addressed to men and overlaps with her tab specifically about how Patriarchy harms men, her Today in Rape Culture tab, and hel... her entire back catalogue. She is a treasure.

If you want to learn read, don't comment. Safe space.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:23 PM on December 14, 2014 [17 favorites]


Shakesville is also a good place for white feminists to get their feet wet learning about misogynoir if they find Womanist and Black Feminist blogs/twitter/tumblr too off-putting, the language too dense, of they get caught up in their defensiveness about racism. Growth involves facing up to those things, learning the language, and then educating oneself, of course.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:27 PM on December 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


divabat, thanks that is the kind of blog I am thinking of but yes the sarcasm is too far afield to get my point across. I wonder if anyone teaches gender studies or privilege. Is there a short essay or excerpt that invariably appears in readers that gets this point across? A heavily favorited comment?

For more context, an acquaintance of mine is confused because his ex girlfriend doesn't want to be friends. I do not know all the details and I don't want to get involved, but I thought of Metafilter might have a reading suggestion from the vast repository of threads not on relationships but more broadly in the area of intentions and feelings. I find myself wanting to introduce this topic in formal contexts anyway.

I feel like I am asking the community to do my homework for me but I appreciate all suggestions.
posted by CtrlAltD at 3:31 PM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]




why a person cannot dictate another's feelings

You may be looking for insight into 'personal autonomy'.

from MetaFilter:
  • Can men and women really be just friends?
  • My ex-boyfriend wants to be friends. I don't.
  • Is there ever a tactful way to let someone know you don't want to be friends? What to do in an instance of hurt feelings.

    It's an ancient notion. This history may be interesting to you:
  • Autonomy in Moral and Political Philosophy

  • posted by four panels at 6:38 PM on December 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


    Thank you. The word I was looking for was effect, not reception. It was on the tip of my tongue.
    posted by CtrlAltD at 6:40 PM on December 14, 2014


    The question doesn't really make sense to me in its appeal for (and to) authority. It's not like there is some provable, discoverable psychological or behavioral truth about the communicative efficacy of empathy.

    But the idea is certainly old enough. I recommend starting with Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics (in ancient Greek if you prefer). Then Machiavelli, Kant, and Locke.

    There is a tendency I've noted for people to universalize very culturally specific current maxims as some sort of transcendent truth.

    It has never not been the case in human history that empathy enhances communication if empathetic communication enhancement is what you want , but a raised broadsword also communicates effectively, if you wish to communicate without recourse to empathy and without consideration of rebuttal.

    It's not like there's some "go to" scientific reference that definitively refutes selfishness as a strategy and convinces the masses to value conative over expressive focus on meaning (to cite Jakobson's famous distinction).

    Haters still gonna hate hate hate hate.
    posted by spitbull at 7:18 PM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


    Machiavelli? :•

    I would recommend Maslows' theories on self-actulization/ hierarchy of needs.
    posted by clavdivs at 7:59 PM on December 14, 2014


    Sample:
    "Autonomy. Self-actualizers are free from reliance on external authorities or other people. They tend to be resourceful and independent."
    posted by clavdivs at 8:01 PM on December 14, 2014




    I don't get what's being asked here. Is it talking about the idea that I can say 'x', you can say 'omfg you said x i'm so hurt / insulted / triggered / whatever' and I can say 'but I didn't mean to do that when I said x' and you can say 'that doesn't make the slightest bit of difference you're a terrible person' and actually be right?
    posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:03 AM on December 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


    get off my foot?
    posted by NoraReed at 1:17 AM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


    mbrubeck, that's a fascinating article, thank-you so much.
    posted by alasdair at 1:18 AM on December 15, 2014


    Yes, Machiavelli is one of the key thinkers on the question of empathy. He points out that one can *fake* being concerned with your interlocutor's experience to your own advantage. Which is HIGHLY pertinent to Metafilter, actually.
    posted by spitbull at 3:55 AM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


    And back atcha clavdivs, Maslow?
    posted by spitbull at 3:56 AM on December 15, 2014


    Also Taylor Swift.
    posted by spitbull at 3:57 AM on December 15, 2014


    "Effect" vs. "Reception" names, in fact, a key philosophical distinction.

    It isn't just "wrong" to fail to recognize (or acknowledge or yield to) another's truth of a situation. It's an end of a continuum of possibilities for primate interactional behavior. Read Frans de Waal.

    btw shorter Machiavelli : you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. But poison also works.
    posted by spitbull at 4:18 AM on December 15, 2014


    The question doesn't really make sense to me in its appeal for (and to) authority.

    It reads to me not as an appeal to authority, but as a recognition that sometimes there are pieces of writing that express an idea really effectively, far more effectively than one thinks one could oneself. If one remembers having read something like that somewhere at some point previously, it's reasonable to ask "hey, does anybody else remember this"?
    posted by Lexica at 10:41 AM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


    Yeah, that might not be the best model for conveying a message.

    Oh, but I'm sure they meant well.
    posted by yoink at 12:27 PM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


    I would recommend Maslows' theories on self-actulization/ hierarchy of needs.

    Re: self-actualization I recommend Laslow's hierarchy of needs:

    Ditch Bogie.
    Take Ingrid Bergman.
    Get out of Casablanca.
    Food, water, shelter, etc.
    posted by octobersurprise at 6:54 PM on December 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


    Nothing important to add except that I wish I was there for the platonic friendship debate linked above. It looked really fun. Maybe I'll hunt down a similarly provocative article to put on the blue.
    posted by johnnydummkopf at 2:16 PM on December 17, 2014


    "To be able to listen -- really, wholly, passively, self-effacingly listen -- without presupposing, classifying, improving, controverting, evaluating, approving or disapproving, without dueling with what is being said, without rehearsing the rebuttal in advance, without free-associating to portions of what is being said so that succeeding portions are not heard at all -- such listening is rare."

    -Maslow.

    I see your point spitbull, now I shall hunt the Internet for timely rejoiner concerning Taylor Swift and political motivations concerning subterfuge and the tautology of empathic response.
    posted by clavdivs at 4:49 PM on December 17, 2014


    "Many bullies are confident and socially successful. Some may even be skilled at “theory of mind,” the ability to interpret the goals, beliefs, and emotions of others.

    But being able to recognize the emotions of others is not the same as empathy. Nor does good “mind-reading” imply that a person shows sympathy for others.

    And here, perhaps, is where the average bully comes up short"
    posted by clavdivs at 5:46 PM on December 17, 2014


    My first rule of the digital age: You can't read tone from a text.

    Reading comments/texts charitably leads to less stress.
    posted by OHenryPacey at 5:50 PM on December 17, 2014


    "Machiavellian kids? Bullies, empathy, and moral reasoning - See more at: http://www.parentingscience.com/bullies-and-moral-reasoning.html#sthash.5pMPxjaf.dpuf
    posted by clavdivs at 5:51 PM on December 17, 2014


    Machiavellian Chimps

    Connecting human and animal behavior became more important to de Waal during this time as he developed a parallel career track in popular writing. In Arnhem, he frequently gave lectures to zoo visitors, and he appreciated their natural curiosity. Yet the hot topics in academia were the ones that set them yawning, he noticed. “What they really want to know is what kind of emotions, what kind of facial expressions, what kind of social relations the animals have,” he says.

    de Waal.

    Shall we start here?
    posted by clavdivs at 6:10 PM on December 17, 2014


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