Category Archives: Communication

Tolerance of Narratives

A Rule of Thumb Inspired by Rudolf Carnap

Written by: 罗子禾

One day, I was striking up an interesting conversation with a friend about laws. We looked into the diversity of laws, viz. laws differ from region to region, from country to country, from era to era. We shared a moment of silent admiration after our shared realization that ages of legal and moral laws were all products of human actions. It’s funny that humans authored this intricate and enormous system of rules and norms, but we can’t seem to escape the banality of our lives.

All of a sudden, my friend said, “you know, even though humans wrote all these laws. The credit goes to God.”

“Here we go…” I replied with a deep sigh.

“No, man, look. Where did intelligence come from? Where did moral intuitions come from? Intelligence and moral intuitions are teleologically meaningful things. They are meant for something, i.e. helping us establish and further our pursuit of truth and goodness. It’s natural to think that they exist by the design of a creator. If you see a watch on the beach, would you think it’s more likely that some watchmaker fashioned it or would you prefer to think that the watch formed naturally? I’m allowing the possibility of a watch forming naturally. It is indeed possible, however remotely. But I choose to believe that something as intricate as a watch, which clearly has a specific purpose, is the product of thoughtful design. Now, would you really rather believe that intelligence and moral intuition formed naturally?”

“A scenario of intelligence and moral intuitions forming naturally, by means of mutations and natural selection is actually more plausible. My narrative tells a much fuller story. Check it. The origin of intelligence is just one or a few mutations. Before you say your creator is behind mutation, there is a full bio-physics story that explains how a mutation occurs as well. Let’s leave that aside for now. The genes of intelligence get added to the gene pool and get passed onto future generations. This ability turned out to be advantageous or even the key to survival in a lot of situations. So intelligence and its corresponding genes stayed in a lot of species’ gene pools rather stably, until hominids began consuming cooked foods, which, in time, increased brain capacity and gave intelligence a huge boost. So, to answer your question, yes, I’d much prefer believing that intelligence formed naturally rather than by the design of some creator, of which I see no evidence. The same goes for moral intuitions; there is a full narrative that does not involve a creator.”

Our stimulating conversation eventually turned into a repartee, and it could have gone a lot worse if we weren’t friends.

Too many of us get lured into these disagreements, which trap everybody in an atmosphere of anger and rashness, and nobody ever gets convinced. Then, perhaps we shouldn’t wantonly get into these arguments.

A Christian, who praises Jesus for her fruitful day, shouldn’t be met with my scorn if I asked about her day; if I wanted to convince an atheist, empiricist good-samaritan to come with me to a Hare Krishna soup kitchen, and he says no, I can either try to persuade him by making the case that humanitarian work is humanitarian work with or without religious branding, or I could move on to the next person. Barring extreme situations, there is really no need to discuss a person’s narrative of life, the cosmos, everything, unless the narratives are the topic that is agreed upon.

Make maximal use of what agreements you can solicit, and tolerate other people’s alternative narrative.

Like this article? For more about communicating and tolerance, click here.


Augmented Communication–A Brief Opinion

Communication is one of the things that humans are incredibly savvy at. At least, humans seem to be the only ones capable of communicating the most complex ideas and representations.

We opened up possibilities for skyscrapers, video games and so on by communicating complex ideas to other people. The feat of our achievements is unthinkable if not for the possibility of efficient and effective ways to communicate.

Norms of communication are vital to even the most trivial tasks of our day. For instance, if you wanted to make a new dish, you might want to read a recipe, which requires the skill to read, let’s say, English and maybe some short hands such as “tsp”. Grocery shopping is impossible without knowing the norms on exchanging information about what you want and how much things cost; not being familiar with these norms slow down your grocery shopping.

One time, I was at a restaurant in Hawaii placing my order. I told the cashier I wanted a pop, and she looked confused so I had to change my choice of word and say soda instead.

Successful communication seems awfully dependent upon social norms. Americans prefer the imperial system of measurement while most of the world prefers the metric system. Clothing sizes vary from Northern China to Southern China. When describing things, literary authors use more adjectives than scientists. Modern German recommends the passive tone, while modern English practically frowns on it. There is a difference between casual language and professional language.

So if communication is dependent on social norms or customs, can we change the rules or norms of conduct to make communication more efficient and effective?

Actually, we already do this.

A customer service representative is trained to talk and listen in a specific way that registers a list problems or complaints about some product; a medical doctor is trained to talk and listen in such a way that registers a list of symptoms.

My personal favorite is this: academics are trained to frequently use terms with specific, well-defined meanings. How convenient! This practice of agreeing to use terms that are chewed over and closely examined avoid so much confusion and unnecessary disagreements.

To me, academia stands out among all frontier pursuits of truth, meaning and value precisely because of its tempered norms of communication. There is rarely any name calling at the end of a poorly handled debate; there is no yelling and little physical confrontation. There is, however, vanity and meaningless rivalry. But if academia gave us democracy, knowledge of the stars, and insight into the human heart, in all its imperfect, ever-growing infancy, I sit back and watch in awe of future augmentations of human communication and the wonders it may bring.


Exercise Your Empathy–Practicing Healthy Communication

Communication is an interesting thing. We communicate all the time, even when we’re not speaking. But of course, everyone already knows that at least half of our communication isn’t even audible.

Communication is essential to everything that we do. If atoms are the building blocks of life, then communication is arguably the building blocks of society.  On a more local level, communicating with friends and colleagues can be challenging. There are times when an issue is too personal to us, which prevents us from being able to effectively communicate.

We shut ourselves down in an attempt to protect ourselves from perceived verbal abuse. 9 times out of 10, it’s not abuse we’re hiding from. We’re not worried about getting hurt, we’re worried about the deflation of our egos.

Just stop it.

Take a moment. Go find a mirror. Look at yourself. You are not the only creature in the world that matters. Your beliefs are not inherently superior to others. Once you’re done with that. Take a look at this empathetic exercise that can help you communicate better.

  • Empathy Exercise
    • Empathy is the main ingredient. It should be in every discussion you have that concerns personal beliefs. Take a moment. Breathe in. Breathe out. Remember you don’t know everything. You can’t know everything.
  • Understand this person:
    • Who are they?
    • How strongly do they believe in their opinion?
    • Are they insecure?
    • How assertive were they?
    • What do you think they want from this conversation?
  • Understand their beliefs:
    • What is it? Could you repeat it?
    • Why do they believe it?
    • Could you believe it? What’s stopping you?


  • Mirror Exercise
    • Your answers here should be critical. Don’t pull your punches here to save your ego.
  • Understand yourself:
    • Who are you?
    • How strongly do you believe in your opinion?
    • Are you insecure?
    • How assertive were you?
    • How could you leave this conversation satisfied? When they concede a loss? Or when they assign value to your opinion?
  • Understand your own beliefs:
    • What is it? Did you present them clear enough for them to repeat it?
    • Why do you believe it?
    • Could they believe it? What do you think is stopping them?

Practice this with friends and family. Remember to be patient, as this should take a substantial amount of time and discipline to master. Also visit 5 Reasons You’re Not Getting Your Point Across for extra tips on communicating better.



5 Reasons You’re Not Getting Your Point Across

It happened again. You just finished arguing with an old high school friend about politics. It ended badly. They un-friended you, and blocked you. You’re left there, angry and resentful. You have no idea why they reacted so strongly, and proceeded to call you a ‘nazi.’

This happens all the time, across the digital world of social media. Friendships are lost, and people revert further and further into their own space with like-minded individuals. But that shouldn’t be how debates end. That shouldn’t be how debates go at all!

If you are intending to debate with a friend or stranger, then it’s important to be aware of some key things that you’re most likely ignoring. Here’s a list of reasons why you might not be getting your point across.

  1. ) You’re not face-to-face.
    1. What do you mean? Well, think about the last time you had a debate with someone in person. How easy was it for that person to take a break to look up facts?
    2. Also, expressions and body language are a big part of how humans communicate. Without non-verbal cues, we’re left to guess the gravity of words on a screen.
  2. ) You’re too angry.
    1. If you feel your blood boil as soon as you read a comment, then TAKE A BREAK. Their comment will still be there when you get back.
  3. ) Offensive language.
    1. “You’re all snow-flakes.” “You’re narrow minded.” “This is bad.” Need I type more?
    2. Offensive language is a huge part of getting your point tossed aside. Ask yourself, do you really want them to understand you? If yes, then throw out the offensive and judgmental language. It’s not necessary in a healthy debate.
  4. ) You’re talking too much.
    1. Again, ask yourself if you really want them to understand you. If yes, then stop talking so much! Listen to them. Understand them. If you don’t, then you’re both just talking at each other.
  5. ) Lack of empathy.
    1. If you aren’t capable of understanding and feeling their sorrow, or pain, then just stop. Because they won’t want to feel yours.
    2. Remember, their cause is just as important to them, as yours is to you. So don’t belittle them, don’t insult them. Understand them.

I hope this list helps you communicate with friends and acquaintances better. Don’t continue to fall victim to these pitfalls of communication! Become the debate-master.

Read more here: Exercise Your Empathy