One Word which Kills Transformative Dialogue

The moment you use the word ‘surely’ in conversation or debate, you have closed yourself off from hearing the other person’s view and lost an opportunity to be changed by diverse viewpoints. It is the conversational version of crossed arms.

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I love being around young people because I learn so much from them. The negative view of the word ‘surely’ comes from my daughter who has been lecturing at the University of Cape Town for the past year. Challenging the use of the word comes out of conversations specifically around transformation and diversity, but has much wider implications for all relationships.

Think about it: Every sentence that begins or ends with ‘surely’ immediately suggests that whatever the other speaker is about to say cannot contradict your opinion, because your ten cents worth is assuredly correct.. ‘Surely’ is a verbal roadblock to being open to another theory and it kills collaborative activity.

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And then we combine it with the ubiquitous ‘but’ which automatically translates as ‘No, you are wrong’ and so doing, we show ourselves to be arrogant and patronising. This is how we communicate our prejudices, patriarchy, misogyny and colonial attitudes, in fact our bias. ‘Surely’ almost inevitably introduces gaslighting of some kind.

But surely, you can see… (your ideas are rubbish)
But surely the government/taxis/women/other races should… (I know what is best for everyone)
But surely you must… (I am going to make you do it my way)

Translation: You/they are wrong. I want you to think, speak and do what I want you to.
I am in charge.

And out the window go empathy and compassion. Harper Lee in the famous To Kill a Mocking Bird speaks about walking in another man’s shoes and even goes so far as to say we should climb into someone else’s skin:

“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”


Chapter 3, To Kill a Mocking Bird

We don’t have to physically climb into someone’s shoes or skin (that’s a bit creepy anyway) but listening without judging requires us to suspend our ‘but surely’ retorts so that we open ourselves to innovative ideas and truths and see the world through another’s eyes.

If we are going to have any meaningful transformational dialogues we have to find ways in which we can ensure individuals are heard.

So drop this one word from your vocabulary. Try saying ‘I think’ when stating your vision. Better still, ask what someone else thinks.

And then shut up and listen.

A Series of Unfortunate Series

The watching of series phenomenon has altered the way we live. I fear that family life will never be the same.

First came TV dinners; then came social media and lately series; all transforming us from social, companionable beings into individualistic  fowl who pop into our chicken coops after dinner with the zeal of a greedy child hiding the Christmas chocolate back in the advent calendar.

I suppose I am speaking on behalf of all those with addictive personalities – you know who you are: you have to finish all the chocolate once it is opened; you can’t stop scrolling through Facebook/Instagram notifications, even though you are bored already with other people’s family outings/ neatly arranged meal/cocktail/ or random sunset; you just have to try once more to reach reach the next level on Candy Crush, and of course you who cannot stop until you have finished every season of a series.

Binge watching is the problem, not the series itself. I mean ever since Charles Dickens first began publishing his works in serial form, both weekly and monthly, readers have become used to anticipating the next episode.  Daily and weekly television programmes did the same thing. Who does not remember the excitement of the opening bars of the Dallas theme or the desire to know who shot JR?! Now, however, an entire season of a show is dumped on Showmax or Netflix (I don’t want to know if you are pirating your addiction) and we no longer have to delay gratification by waiting to see the outcome of the cliffhanger ending, because Netflix tells us that the next episode of Luther is opening in …7…6…5…seconds. And then you carry on, even if you really should switch off and go to sleep; have sex with your spouse; or have a conversation with a flesh and blood person. But let’s face it: Idris Elba. Well, Idris Elba:Image result for idris elba

Too much of anything is bad for you, my mother always said. And reluctantly even Idris needs to be switched off from time to time because as Aristotle pointed out 3000 years ago, true happiness should not be confused with pleasure; and just to be clear, series are ‘passing pleasures’ they do not give us deep, soul happiness. In fact the obsessive consumption of episode after episode can cause the same kind of sick feeling after you’ve polished off the whole Cadbury’s Milk Choccie.

It seems some shows also result in rather tumultuous emotions:Related image Game of Thrones fans are so devout that they gather in bars for ‘watch parties, causing some problems for HBO because they are publicly screening the shows, costing the channel revenue. But just look at the picture above – this is the episode when we discover how Hodor got his name – my girls wept for half an hour after that. I still think these cult parties are better than the habit most of us have of disappearing into our own territory to watch alone though.

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Such solo viewing of series has brought about a new form of cheating on your loved ones. My husband and I used to watch series together, but because one or the other would want to stop after a while (that would be him – he has more restraint), accusations of going on alone can rend a relationship asunder.   There’s actually a name for it, I kid you not: ‘Netflix cheating’ and any number of ‘scholarly articles on betrayal-by-watching-on. Such behind-his-back watching was found to be considered worse than sending flirty smses to someone else in one study. Seriously?! And yet this addiction for ‘just one more’ is so compelling …

Like all film media, we must always consider the hidden cultural messages we are being exposed to. There is your usual standard US propaganda in shows about law enforcement. And here I must pick on services like HBO yet again with the gratuitous sex and violence in shows such as Game of Thrones. Pause to consider that the target audience of channels such as HBO are 18-44 years and male and you get an idea whose interests are being catered for. This explains why there is so much hyper-masculinity and misogyny vis a vis nudity and the general way women are depicted. We become so inured to regular blood-spouting decapitations and debauchery that they begin to seem normal. And that is how stereotypes and implicit bias works, my friends.

Big Bang Theory has been accused of ‘the complicity of geek masculinity’ in reinforcing gender stereotypes, despite having as its protagonists ‘unconventional male characters’. So beware of those hidden biases when you watch your series and ensure you are not unconsciously assisting in the perpetuation of homophobia, hyper-masculinity and misogyny.

Of course one could avoid watching these shows, but – the FOMO darling! I just had to watch – and to be honest it was rather satisfying to see the chicks taking control. Now if I say ‘and there’s Jon Snow’ I shall reveal my own sad objectification of men. So I won’t say, ‘And then there’s Jon Snow.’

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At least with sub-titled shows, we also have exposure to other cultural experiences. We have been fascinated by Rita set in a school in Denmark and has shown some interesting contrasts to our educational offerings: small, glass-walled classrooms for one.

Then there is the Rocky-III phenomenon. Some shows go on longer than they should. They have a season or two, the producers are making money, so they carry on with further seasons which just just don’t have the same sizzle. Sometimes a story is exhausted after its initial telling. Then it should stop to avoid the soapie-type serial developing. Orphan Black,  for example, just got so convoluted and ridiculous that I stopped watching. Breaking Bad got it right. Mind you that was the most mind-blowingly brilliant show ever! As a work of art, it was sheer brilliance. And it ended. My daughter has been nagging me to watch The new episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale which is also a superb piece of theatre and despite being rather dark it is compelling. This one at least has a screenplay for the new season written by the original author so there may be some integrity there, but I do hope it does not become like the sequel to To Kill a Mocking Bird, which ruined the original.

Anyway I’m off to my own coop now to snuggle in and watch the next episode of my current show. “Winter is coming’ after all.