Pedagogica – Unspoken conversations


People talk to themselves all the time. They carry on a constant inner conversation while listening to each other, watching television, YouTube, or playing a game online. We don't know what they say to themselves about the messages we or the media give them.

When we are talking directly to them we can ask questions and listen "actively" to their responses. Communicating with so many through other media, however, we rarely know who they are personally, to say nothing of knowing less about what goes through their minds as they take in what we send. So, we guess. We use what local and cultural information we are able to to try to construct a message that we hope will reach them. We weigh words and images to avoid "red flags" and "red herrings." We want them to track the direction we intend to communicate.

If we could know more about the conversations people are have with themselves, we could create more effective messages. This analysis may help.

We are born into a Prevailing Conversation carried on by the people about us, our parents, family, neighborhood, etc. We learn our language, its sounds, along with the meanings, beliefs, emotional weight and values that words contain from what people around us say. We talk to ourselves as others have talked to us. We have no other choice to begin with. This is the Primitive Conversation that we have with ourselves 

Many men, for example, are likely to be born into a Prevailing Conversation, which states, "Women are the weaker sex" or, "Women need men to look after them and protect them." This becomes their Primitive Conversation about women. It is automatically present when the word "woman" is mentioned, and shows up spontaneously when men are called to interact with women. They interpret new situations in the light of their Primitive Conversations with conversations derived from them. 

So, for example, when daughter is about to go off to summer camp, dad has a differentDerivative Conversation about her with himself than he might have if his son was about to do the same thing, e.g., "I wonder if Amy will be ok and can take care of herself," or, "Will the environment be 'safe' for a thirteen year old girl?", in contrast with, "Camp is good for boys--makes 'em self reliant."

Unexamined, our Primitive and Derivative Conversations become the active "prejudices" with which we listen to and "understand" what others say to us and the "reality" out of which we act.

As individuals grow and mature, particularly in a pluralistic environment, they are challenged with other Prevailing Conversations of a new time and place. They begin to create new or Alternative Conversations for themselves, which put them in the position of needing to make new choices about how they will understand others and act toward them.

For a man such an alternative conversation might be, "Girls are as intelligent and capable as boys and need to have challenging experiences to grow up." Obviously women do the same thing, although their Primitive Conversations may be different because they were spoken to differently than men when they were children.

When we speak to people either directly or through the media, we can ask of ourselves and ask our sources of information:

  1. What are the Primitive and Derivative Conversations of our audience likely to be, given the Prevailing Conversations of the time and place in which they have grown up?
  2. What Alternative Conversations will they be challenged to accept for themselves or defend themselves against, given what the various new conversations prevailing in the society in which they are immersed today, and given what we are here and now saying to them?

When we have constructed our hypothetical answers, we can aim our message at the audience and try it out. We can then test our hypothesis by getting feedback from a sample of the population we are trying to reach. Such feedback can be had, even informally, by questions that ask people to share the conversations they have been having with themselves. Here are samples of such questions:

  • What did X mean to you?
  • What came to mind when you read or heard X?
  • What did you tell yourself when you saw X.
  • What would you have liked to have heard or seen instead of X?
  • What sort of discussion did you have with yourself about the pro's and con's of X?

Culture lives in these hidden, unspoken conversations and it always at work. What is heard, said and constructed in and around us is the product of these conversations and serve as clues to them. Getting at them is the detective work we need before we put others, the world on trial on false charges.


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