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Posts Tagged ‘Introduction to Phenomenology

Question Authority: “I wonder if that’s true.”

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Is suspension of belief the same as active doubt?

Strangers, colleagues, friends and family are adept at sounding like they know what they are talking about. It’s a piece of the human condition in our U.S. of A. to come across with confidence (even better—hubris—if you can manage it). Use a certain tone of voice, jam words together quickly, toss in a few technical terms, keep your head steady and hold someone’s gaze, and—presto!—you’re an expert.

And your word matters.


Back in college studying philosophy I might have been an irritating presence with friends because the most common, most innocuous comments could elicit questions. Over time I learned to hold those questions to myself and mull things over in a less public way. But whenever I find myself in the presence of people who wrap themselves with authority, those questions pop out.

I’m attracted to Robert Sokolowski’s take on phenomenology. In particular, this notion of bracketing our natural thoughts and suspending a belief to ask about it and examine the pieces and parts and moments and manifolds of that belief. It’s a great thing to do in conversation, and many generous-minded thinkers and experts will walk that direction with me. But those intent on cloaking themselves with authority—those using bits of knowledge as rhetorical tools to one-up their conversation partners—see ordinary questions that come from bracketing as weapons of aggression.

And in truth, sometimes they are. To respond to the expert with “I wonder if that is true” is to question authority, to question context, to question orthodoxy. It also brings common relationships into question. Can we be friends if you question this basic statement?

And yet the most marvelous thoughts follow those ordinary questions. Thoughts that propel forward with much deeper motivation and insight.

Friends who allow you to ask very basic questions are a gift to be cherished.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Being Present is Hard Work

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Just Don’t be Boring

I know this from teaching college students. Some students are right there with you (I love these people!). I see others fade into and out of our discussion while some simply park their carcass in a chair as their mind plays on a sandy beach in South America. I don’t blame them. Helping any audience be present is a challenge for every communicator. It’s a challenge I try to take seriously in teaching, writing and face-to-face conversation. A creative director I worked with would always say, “just don’t be boring.” He was right. No speaker or conversation partner has a right to squander someone else’s attention.

I know being present is hard from my own experience as well. Paying attention to someone requires a lot of energy. Maybe introversion/extroversion has something to do with it. Maybe not: extroverts have an especially hard time listening because they really, really want to interrupt and say their spiel.

Over the weekend I talked with a physician who works really hard at being present with each patient. Her day is spent in 15-30 minutes intervals of intense listening followed by repeating what she heard, followed by diagnosis mixed with more listening and more response. It’s easy to see why it takes all her energy.

Rereading Robert Sokolwski’s Introduction to Phenomenology, I ran across this quote:

All experience involves a blend of presence and absence, and in some cases drawing our attention to this mix can be philosophically illuminating. (18)

The physician worked hard at being present with her patients precisely because the words uttered by patient after patient were only one piece of the puzzle. She was also analyzing what wasn’t being said, what the patient was trying not to say, as well as analyzing physical appearance and the way the patient holds him or herself. Same stuff we all pay attention to, but the physician needs to draw concrete conclusions or at least educated guesses that could lead to a course of action.

Being present is a gift we give to each other.


Image credit: Paul C. Burns via thisisn’thappiness

Written by kirkistan

August 13, 2012 at 9:52 am

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