My mate Paul Jackson challenges the language used in questions like “what really matters?”
…in one discussion we were asked ‘Why are you here?’ and later ‘Why are you really here?’. The best answer I was given was that ‘really’ makes it more dramatic. Which may be fine, but this drama comes at a price
He’s picking up on some of the language used in the recent Art of Hosting event he and I went to in Ireland, and it’s certainly made me think. I think it’s very easy to have some desire for a “deeper” conversation but be quite clumsy in the way we articulate it and “depth” like all words comes with its own luggage. My request for you to go deeper may easily feel like a status play on my part, as if I know some mysterious depth that you don’t, or won’t, go to. Perhaps what would be more useful would be for to make a more subtle, and perhaps more vulnerable, statement about my experience that opens an enquiry rather than potentially setting up an inquisition.
I had to reread this line by Paul a couple of times, and I think it was worth the effort:
If we take emergence seriously and consider ‘systems thinking’ a worthwhile lens with which to view and describe, then it may be useful to drop this rather conflicting language of ‘really’ and ‘essentially’ and so forth. Realist and essentialist language gives the impression that our descriptions of what we are emergently contructing are somehow inadequate or that the way to improve upon them is by looking further for what is ‘real’ or ‘essential’.
There is a shadow side to sophisticated talk about complexity. Whilst we can easily congratulate ourselves for understanding things are complex, there’s usually some shadow need for it to be reduced to something that it isn’t. Thus claims to understand the “deep structure” are actually pretty dodgy. The subtext of some complexity gurus is basically: complexity is wonderfully mysterious but I understand it so much better than you, you’d better do as I say. We get the idea that no one can be in control, but we leak out our emotional desire for someone to be.
I think there’s a big trap here for facilitators, one that I know I fall into from time to time. In the moment, we think we have seen something the group hasn’t, and we sit there either portentously waiting for it, or pushing for it… and not noticing the status position we are now playing. One of the warning signs is that this is usually an effortful position. As I say in that link, it’s where we cross from enthusiasm to obsession.
Having said all of that, I personally quite liked the “really” elements of the questions in the particular context of this event. Maybe I was in the mood for a bit of drama. But, as ever, we easily forget how language doesn’t quite tie us together in the ways we think it does.