Thursday, November 12, 2015

To Ooze (with Stu, Rich, Phil)

Defn: To Ooze
1. Closed to productive debate and discussion. Presumed intellectual and/or moral superiority.
2. Emotional outbursts masquerading as factual discussion.
3. Closet Trolling. Partially hidden jibes and insults, with no intention of honest engagement.

A few friends and I had a chat about one of the obstacles to productive conversation. Rich and Stu have written before on Swart Donkey. Phil is dipping his toes into the water...

Stu and Rich trolling UCT in 2002

It is far easier to see the errors in the ways of others than in our own. I have to consciously practice not responding to pet peeves in other people's speech, and to try listen to their main point. In person, I find this hard. People look for a slight head nod, and my facial expression gives away that I think what the person is saying is nuts. I am working on my poker face. With writing, it is easier. You can delay responding. Interaction is useful. But the distance text creates allows you to reread, and see the underlying sarcasm, insults, and ooze that people spray all over each other in discussions, that descend into arguments, and then into fights, and then into walls and tribes.

Developing a good poker face to hide what you really think doesn't necessarily sound so great to me. It depends on how it's done I guess. What you mean is suppressing system 1 reactions (automatic) and applying system 2 (controlled) to try and do justice to what is being said. That is admirable, but I think it might be disrespectful or manipulative in some situations. It's certainly a skill that would be useful for a supervillain to master. Also, what you say about written stuff is only sometimes true. I think system 1 sees snark, derp and disrespect even when it's not there. Reading well is hard.

I don't think the onus is on the listener to manage the feelings of the oozer. Respectful listening, yes, is owed; but passive agreement is not. Oozing is seldom a question of factual debate - those are answered readily enough. Rather it's a question of the values and judgement that we each bring to the facts. And it is this sense of judgement that hits at the core of oozing as opposed to respectful debate - the sense of "I am a better person than you because I believe these things". And which is ultimately hypocritical as we're all flawed. Balancing the need to challenge ideas and current values with the importance of not judging is the essence of not oozing. Holding oozers to that balance is how we can be good listeners.

Thanks guys. I like and agree with what's been said. I want to focus on the necessity and productive potential of "conscious oozing". I view oozing as something like the emotivist theory of ethics - the "boo! hurrah!" theory. i.e. "murder is bad" = "murder, boo"; "altruism is good" = "altruism, hurrah!" To take two twittering examples from the recent protests: "Whites must go back to Europe" and "Blacks are stupid" both equal "Nnngggaamghnghnghaangh!" i.e. suppressed screams. In my view, these screams need to be bellowed, caterwauled and oozed at full volume (in an appropriate forum) before any factual debate can occur. So I vote for a new "oozing discourse". e.g "Oh Wow! That was some good ooze!"; "Excuse me, I just need to ooze for a second"; "Sho - having a look at my last ooze, I can really see that..."

Stu and Phil showing their softer conversational skills (UCT 2002)

I agree that excessively controlled communication can be as annoying as Ooze. Someone 'playing devil's advocate' or intentionally provoking can give the same impression of superiority. Like someone is mansplaining to you, but through the guise of a discussion. It is one thing to know how to engage in productive conversation with people with good intentions and communication skills. The difficult thing is what to do when someone is oozing, trolling, ranting or basically just being unpleasant. The answer can't be just to shut up/ walk away/ unfriend. Leaning into the tough conversations is definitely where I thought Phil would head with this. Perhaps accepting Ooze is better than moaning about it.

I suppose one person's ooze is another person's bold, telling it like it is. We might agree that one is good and the other is bad but it's unlikely we'll agree on which the ooze is. Phil may be right about the virtues of public ooze, but in personal relations I'm no so sure the answer is never to shut up/ walk away/ unfriend. Some kinds of ooze are just a way of being an asshole and life is short. I found this line from an old post of mine "these opinions are for entertainment only!" We shouldn't find oozing fun, and being too "proper" is boring and our opinions don't really matter.

There is a consciousness to the decision to engage - a decision about whether the costs are worth it. Some days, it's ok to be up for the fight, to see a conversation thick with ooze and say "Fuck it, I'm going in..." Other times, it's all just too hard. And other times the relationship cost too high, and we realise there is more to people than their ooze. The difficulty is where there is a real effort to explore difficult terrain that is derailed by ooze, and I do think that can, and should, be called out.

Everyone writes well. I agree, I agree. Is there a way to sum this up? If so - Trev that's your job. I want to bang on with my idea of a practical solution. There is a very cool education intervention a colleague of mine uses in her physics classroom. It is called: "The Jargon Buzzer". Buzzers are given out at the beginning of class, and the students are invited to "buzz" as soon as they get lost because of the use of jargon. This concept filters into all class discussion, and within a few weeks, students are saying things like: "I'd like to buzz you on that...". I think we should be able to buzz each other for oozing... thereby bringing more awareness to this potentially very useful practice. And, to kick it off, you can buzz people and send them a link to this blog entry. Salut. x

We need the ability to swap between the more automatic responses of live conversation, and the more considered process of reading. We don't often get to hear ourselves. I know that listening to recordings of speeches is a brilliant technique to improve your presentation skills. I don't think we should extract emotion from engagement. I do think we should engage with people with a genuine attempt to understand them, rather than convince them. Ooze is subjective, and calling someone out on ooze is like telling someone to relax when they are tense. Awareness of what ooze is will help people reflect on how often they ooze, and whether it is getting in the way.

Other guest posts from the Oozers

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