Time pressure encourages socially acceptable speech

An interesting study shows that:

Prosociality increases when decisions are made under time pressure.

and that:

These results of socially desirable behavior under time pressure do not reflect people’s deep-down good selves but, rather, their desire to present themselves favorably to other people. (Rushing to Appear Virtuous: Time Pressure Increases Socially Desirable Responding)

Lead author, John Protzko says of the results:

“The method of ‘answer quickly and without thinking’, a long staple in psychological research, may be doing many things, but one thing it does is make people lie to you and tell you what they think you want to hear. This may mean we have to revisit the interpretation of a lot of research findings that use the ‘answer quickly’ technique. (Under Time Pressure, People Tell Us What We Want to Hear)

The cutoff for “time pressure” was 11 seconds; that is, a yes or no answer was required within 11 seconds to be considered pressured.

Most conversational speech comes well within 11 seconds after a person has been addressed. While being addressed is not the same as being questioned, it does usually imply a response is needed fully as much as a direct question.

If this extrapolation is true, the experiment may also show one important reason people fairly often say what they don’t really mean and/or would rephrase on further reflection.

Beyond that, it may also show why many people are uncomfortable in group settings or with speaking at all. Pressure—time or otherwise—forces us into a shallow “agreeable” mode that regurgitates whatever we think others want to hear or that seems most socially acceptable to us.

I know I have done that many times. And when I buck that tendency, I know I sometimes hit it out of the park and sometimes cause myself embarrassment.

Either way, no matter the result, quick speech is fraught with danger, even among close friends. And this is probably a major reason we legitimately cling to personas, egos, or roles as means to standardize our responses across a wide variety of conditions.

From a Buddhist point o view, a great deal of delusion starts right there.

Public language has problems similar to private language

Private language—what we say to ourselves, how we cogitate while alone—is greatly dependent on public language, that which is readily understood by many.

In fact, private language is so dependent on public language, it can be argued that a private language completely divorced from public language cannot exist.

It is obvious that anyone wanting to influence or control large numbers of people will address them in public language.

It is less obvious, that those same people frequently will also seek to change the public language itself.

Sometimes this language changing is a good thing as that is how civilizations adapt and grow. It is probably best, or usually best, when civilizational changes arise organically from the whole society or from important parts of society that are behaving honestly.

Sometimes, however, the changing of public language is done dishonestly by small numbers of people who have seized positions of power precisely for that purpose.

They change public language to further their positions, ideas, or programs; to seize control of public topics; to seize or secure power over the public.

It is not as easy to parse this as it may seem. Who is restricting honest organic input into public language? Or when is organic input into public language itself but a ruse to falsely commandeer that language?

After Lenin and Stalin seized control of the public languages of the Soviet Union, we can see a clear-cut example of bad actors creating a basis for indoctrination. Before they seized power, we can see an example of a dishonest “organic” group seeking to commandeer control of public language.

And how do we see that today, through the lens of “history”?

Firstly, whose history? The same problem with public language arises.

Secondly, maybe we can never know. Maybe only societal laws or rules of governance can help us determine what’s right or best. But then the same problem arises.

Whose laws, whose rules?

In this sense both public and private languages have enormous problems basing themselves on anything.

What limits speech? In a word: Fear

If we consider speech with only one listener and look firstly at the micro level, we find it is fear of wrong word choice, wrong gesture, expression, demeanor, or tone of voice that limits our speech because a misstep with any one of these may transgress interpersonal limits.

At the meso level, it is either fear of offending or embarrassing (our understanding of) the “personality” of our listener or the fear of an actual flareup from our listener.

At the macro level, it is the fear of introducing a largish idea with sociological or career implications that might disturb, embarrass, or anger our one listener.

With more than one listener, the analysis is much the same though the numbers of people make it more complex, until we get to so many people we are speaking to an audience. Then it becomes simpler in some ways because the micro and meso levels will be less prominent due to distance between speaker and audience and there being no clear single target of our tone of voice or phraseology.

On the other hand, an audience’s response can be more complex and problematic because more than one person can become angry at us.

Human beings thus are stuck in a game that is controlled by how most of us listen most of the time.

Stated differently, human beings have magnificent speech and communicative capabilities, but rarely get to use them to their full, best effect because one or more of the many speech limits outlined above will cause us either to hold our tongues or else risk creating a disruption in the mind(s) of our listeners.

This seems like a Big Problem to me. I do not want to spend my life constrained by those rules. FIML can help us overcome this problem but even FIML cannot do it all.

We must also recognize that our very comprehension of meaning itself is grounded in fear.

Buddhism: Advanced Right Speech requires Advanced Right Listening

The modern world has shown us that Ordinary Right Speech too often leads to no-speech, banal speech, or what used to be called PC speech.

This happens because we can never be sure how even very well-intentioned speech will be heard in Ordinary Situations.

Good intentions are not enough to ensure that Right Speech will be heard Rightly.

A second point about the modern world is it has shown us that, for the most part, more information is better than less information.

Rather than guess about something or rely on a neighbor’s experience, we can look it up on our phones and usually find exactly what we needed to know.

If we do not want to suffer the endless pain of Ordinary Speech because we almost never know how our speech will be heard, let’s learn from our cell phones and ask each other how we are hearing, what we are hearing, what we are able to hear or not able to hear.

In my experience, modern Buddhists virtually all respect the capacity for change inherent in the Buddhadharma. The Four Dharma Seals ensure that we are not being stupid when we interpret the teaching in light of our lived experiences.

My guess is virtually all people suffer a great deal due to fraught speech and fraught listening. Either not enough gets said, or we miss our one chance to say whatever it is, or we are misheard, misunderstood, misremembered. Or we do that to someone else.

So how do we make it better?

Since we were all raised in a world of Ordinary Speech where almost anything could be misunderstood, we all need a way to distinguish speech that is better. We need better rules for how to speak and how to listen.

Advanced Right Speech requires Advanced Right Listening.

You cannot just jump into Advanced Right Speech if your partner knows neither what you are doing nor how to listen to you.

If you want to do Advanced Right Speech you have to have a prior agreement with your partner so that both of you know exactly what is meant by Advanced Right Speech and Advanced Right Listening.

In Buddhism, all relative things are impermanent and empty. Therefore Advanced Right Speech and Advanced Right Listening must be based on a method or process, a technique or way of doing something and not on specific, codified formalities.

FIML practice meets all of the above requirements and if done with reasonable diligence will provide Right Conditions for Advanced Right Speech and Advanced Right Listening.

And that will change your life for the better. It will free you from the constraints of Ordinary Speech and you will never want to go back.

Speech proscriptions

Speech proscriptions can be overt with legal ramifications.

Or they can be sort of covert, couched in ideas like good manners, respect, make no waves, maintain friendly relations, follow group norms, etc.

I believe the covert ones happen most basically because almost all people are terrible at speaking about their own subjective truths. And this leads to being terrible at hearing others’ subjective truths, even if they are well-expressed which is rare.

This problem arises from the pervasive, inherent ambiguity of language in general but especially spoken language.

Speech flies by and we are required to extract coherent meaning from bits of it. We make stories out of it and judge people, including ourselves, based on bad evidence.

Ambiguity in speech also requires us to maintain the same personas and most of the same beliefs for decades. We travel in herds of ideological banality due to it.

Staying the same is a way of projecting sort of unambiguous meaning even though we all know that deep down the whole thing is a bad game.

I used to be bothered by this, but stopped after I figured out FIML and practiced it with my partner for a few years.

After maybe five years, our speech started to become so much clearer it didn’t even feel like the same medium anymore. After ten years, it got so good it seems we may have transcended psychology as it is normally conceived.

This happened because psychology as normally conceived is massively based on speech ambiguity and the ways people react to it. Fact is, you probably should feel a bit crazy in most interpersonal situations because speech proscriptions mixed with compounding ambiguities cannot possibly allow the psychological freedom needed to be cognitively healthy.

Is there a universal morality or basis for morality?

Anthropologists from the University of Oxford believe there are seven components or rules of human morality that can be found in all societies.

…help you family, help your group, return favours, be brave, defer to superiors, divide resources fairly, and respect others’ property, were found in a survey of 60 cultures from all around the world.

An article about this study can be found here: Seven moral rules found all around the world.

The study itself can be found here: Is It Good to Cooperate? Testing the Theory of Morality-as-Cooperation in 60 Societies.

The study concludes that the universal basis of human morality is cooperation.

Among the seven rules, bravery is defined as a moral virtue in defense of one’s group, an ultimate form of cooperation that may result in death.

Deference to superiors seems to be a virtue that supports group hierarchy.

Both bravery and deference to superiors indicate that fighting within and between groups is common.

In today’s world, obviously, many people and most Americans do not live in tribes or stable neighborhoods, so our groups have become nebulous, abstract, bound more by belief and imagination than tribal and clan and familial bonds.

In this respect, the study shows why politics—and other subjects touching on group identity—can become so polarized and so difficult to discuss rationally.