Schlagwort-Archive: Words

There is no meaning per se

Meaning is always arising through the conscious processing of words that someone disseminates. The scope used to be limited to people in the immediate vicinity. As a result, content was always surrounded by comprehensible cultural, linguistic and social context that made understanding easier. For centuries, the mass media have provided words from expert publicist to an ever-growing audience – via press, radio and TV. This led to a unified language and a press code that is committed to truth, reliability, and human dignity. At the same time, the art of interpreting content in a twisted way evolved, in order to manipulate the audience’s formation of opinion.
Through the Internet it is now again possible to exchange thoughts directly from one to the other without expert brokers – however, limited to the words used, which are internalized without additional context information as well as without hints on purposeful influence. As recipients of vast amounts of news, we assume that these messages mean exactly what we understand.

It is based on the fallacy of thinking that sentences and words mean something unambiguous. Perhaps we should be aware of the features of statements. This article deals only with written and spoken language – not pictorial representations. For the sake of simplicity, we speak of speakers and listeners, which also include writers and readers.

  • A collection of words
    Language delivers a series of words, which, more or less, follow grammatical rules. The speaker chooses the expressions from its vocabulary, with a little luck oriented towards its target group – the appropriate national language and an appropriate jargon. The audience receives the words and understands the meaning through their own language skills. The general assumption is that this leads to a far-reaching overlapping of meanings, which is very unlikely.
  • A variety of intentions
    Each statement always contains several intentions: 1) Say what is; 2) Urge to (or not to) do something; 3) Disclose, to (or not to) do something; 4) Share, how you are feeling; 5) Announce, what applies. All this is in one sentence and is noticed according to the interest of the listeners. The following statement is drawn arbitrarily from the stream of news: A denies that B has two things: Experience and charisma. What does this include: 1) B lacks experience and charisma. 2) B is not acceptable. 3) A does not accept B. 4) A does not feel well with B. 5) B will not get it. Scan any sentence for the included messages.
  • Infelicity of the expression
    A statement can be made with different words. And sometimes you get carried away with an awkward wording. Example is the statement „Reconcile the social with the national“. Despite the changed word order you become aware of the double sense. With the amount of other words one could have used, the question arises, to what extent this happened intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Who knows, what it actually meant
    The message behind the words is not always clear, even with a conscious word choice. A statement can be meant as it is said. However, something can also be expressed without meaning it. Quickly, something is expressed that is meant differently. It is particularly frustrating, when you say something and nobody understands what was in your mind. For these reasons, an open, reciprocal discourse, with questions and answers, is always preferable to a one-sided proclamation.

Bottom line: There is reason to fear that there is no longer a common basis for expressing universally accepted facts. The real meaning lies in the eye of the beholder and its own opportunistic interpretation. Although the speaker thinks that it can control this, it is the listener, who processes the content and intention of an utterance. Today, all those, who have access to the Internet, can easily publish. This exacerbates the situation that opinions come into the world that deserves to be called alternative facts. The background is unknown and the contents are adopted uncritically. The fact checkers don’t help here. Direct exchange on the Internet is a new form of conversation, in which opinions are exchanged. In the interest of the freedom of expression, this must be allowed, even if the content is available worldwide without delay and reaches directly immediately vast numbers of people. We must learn to distinguish between personal statements and expert publications, as in everyday street conversations – even, if the differences are difficult to perceive. It is worth taking a look at the imprint of the publicists. There, a part of the context becomes visible or obscured and one recognizes who you are dealing with or not. If the imprint, the names of the authors, the address and the telephone number are missing, or if the contact address is a Freemail, or if the responsibilities are located abroad, the contents are questionable. In any case, there is simply no meaning per se.

Writing for the sake of writing

After four years of regular writing this post is the two hundredth in English. On this occasion I think verbally about writing. The momentum has not yet ebbed away. The contents do not really provide any revolutionary new aspects on the topics of communication, management, change management, meaning shaping, governance, strategy (the sequence corresponds to the frequency of the articles). And yet, they offer new perspectives. Some subjects evolved to a series, such as the ideal metaphor. Other articles follow daily headlines. This time I think about the reasons that the momentum does not stop.

Writing uses the same words as talking. Nevertheless, writing is a more conscious examination of the subject. By tonal exhalation words are formed, which, if they do not reach an ear, evaporate unheard. Writing remains. But why writing, if the described wheel is already round?

  • Out of a need to communicate
    Humans have been speaking for about 100,000 years and nowadays an average of 16,000 words daily. That the exchange of words is an important prerequisite for social togetherness can be seen in the cultural character of individual regions of the world as well as in their diversity. Important meaning carriers were and are religions. This can be seen in the Western approach to group the world in good and bad, right and wrong, or in the balance of yin and yang in the east. The progressions were driven by the natural needs to communicate – first verbally, for 5,000 years handwritten and printed for centuries. Writing remains longer, even if the carrier dissolves over time – paper very fast, parchment slower and stone apparently not at all. Let us wait and see how long the Internet provides the posts.
  • Describing issues
    The contents that are transported go from economic accounting, to sacred and political texts to today’s literature. With all the variety of words, certain areas remain refused to writing. Feelings and abstract thoughts can only be described without being able to express the essential. As Wittgenstein put it in a nutshell: “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.“ These are the areas that cry out for an additional formulation. Abstract themes do not have a tangible life and exist therefore only in the consciousness of the individual. What they make out of it can not be ascertained, since the inner thoughts are not accessible for other people. This is one reason why certain things are repeatedly described and thus become a printable version that can be discussed splendidly over and over again.
  • Finding appropriate words
    Writing has the advantage that a train of thought that is expressed in words, can be improved. Theoretically, the right moment for the correction has come, when there is something printable. At the same time, the immediate reformulation of a sentence slows down the writing flow, because you can get into an infinite loop of correction. It is more fruitful to write down a longer text in a row, leaving it untouched for a certain time, and to rework it afterwards. This time you will notice parts that do not fit the actual theme. You find words that are inappropriate, too abstract, or too often repeated. At the same time, the appeal lies also in the formation of words that can not be found in a normal dictionary. The ultimate goal is to place few, and at the same time simple words, closest to the desired intention. As a result, several texts are being prepared in parallel. Once the proper degree is reached, they are completed.
  • Finding appropriate images
    This is valid in a double sense. On the one hand, the contents are to be illustrated by means of figurative meanings. The search for a meaningful outline of the theme, analogies and metaphors are an important element of writing. On the other hand, each blog post consists of a scribbled stroke drawing. Since words can express only a part of the intention, the picture is another way to show the purpose. Writing does not start until the image is displayed. It creates the framework and always ensures that the original purpose does not get lost. The images can be realistic images of the subject or metaphorical visualizations. Quite rarely contradictions happen between text and image. If so, usually the picture will be reworked. The entire process of writing always consists of both: visualization and writing.
  • Practicing English
    All blog articles are immediately developed bilingually. In addition to the fact that this increases the scope of the potential readership, an important reason is to make the texts better. Once the text is available in German, it will be translated into English. Unintentionally ambiguous passages show up in the German text. The two texts, German and English, are eventually adapted to each other and to the original intention. The huge vocabulary of English makes you aware of missing words in German – and vice versa. It is remarkable that the subconscious meaning gives signals as long as the formulation is not yet as it should be. The bilingual processing of the texts has proven beneficial for both languages, as the active vocabulary is expanded for both.
  • Trick the transience of time
    As described above, what has been said dissolves in the air, sometimes unheard or misunderstood. There are also the thoughts, which briefly emerge and then disappear again in latency, as long as it is not written down. Otherwise, they become visible only with corresponding stimulus that provokes the respective region of the mind and brings the thought back into consciousness. A remedy is writing. A clever formulation, a coherent train of thought, or a Eureka, which would solve a long-standing smoldering enigma, might be lost. Sometimes in the sleep the solution suddenly appears before your inner eyes. Quickly turning on the light, grabbing the notebook and … crap, where is the pen. Without notes, the next day the idea would be gone. The same applies to every blog article. I do not remember, what it was, but I have already put the issue into words. And then there is the fact that up to now contents have been waiting for reading – now for four years. This also makes it possible to convey own thoughts longer than you could tell them.
  • Fruitful routine
    An important element of writing is the routine that it takes to keep getting to new texts. Of course the right mood helps in writing. Sometimes it is worthwhile to pay attention to the inner resistance and not to force anything. This does not mean, however, that you give in to the impulse and get out of rhythm. In this case, it is one post per week. In the sense of the constant drop that caves the stone, the discipline brings by and by a lot of thoughts into the net and on the paper. In addition, the weekly routine offers a meditative aspect as well as food for your own satisfaction. And, of course, writing practice improves the everyday production of content – be it in reports, brochures or even in PowerPoints.

Bottom line: This text is a good example of the last one hundred ninety-nine blog posts. The subject was found, the picture was scribbled, and finally the structure and the formulations were developed. In this case, these are the reasons for writing: the need for communication, describing issues, appropriate words and images, practicing English, the transience, and the fruitful routine. Whether these reasons for writing apply for all or just for me lies in the eye of the beholder. For me it is enough to go on for the time being. The more pages are created, the more will be read. Perhaps another reason to continue this routine is also writing for the sake of writing.

A picture is worth a thousand (sometimes wrong) words

Over time we developed the conviction ‘Seeing is believing’. This means that one believes in the existence or truth of something, which one saw with the own eyes. Some are already convinced, when they learn about the seeing through second-hand. Images are an effective way to convey a message. There are rock paintings that already used the figurative representation thirty thousand years ago. As time went by the representations became more and more realistic. Today, we can participate in current developments even through moving pictures with original soundtrack and in real time. The picture is taken as proof. Many forget that the two-dimensional medium of a picture distorts reality with its perspective, frame and the moment of the taking. The consequence is that a picture says more than thousand words – sometimes even wrong ones.

Bildsagtmehralstausendworte

In the course of the Ukraine crisis the above photographs were taken in a meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama. Different photographs of the meeting appeared subsequently in several newspapers. We still trust the journalists as the last bastion of objectivity. The ethos of journalists, to always spread objective truths, should actually lead to reliable news. Let’s forget the special cases of the controlled, non-military war correspondents (so called embedded journalists) and the quasi-state-run press, since they are obviously propaganda. The associated attempt of the historical manipulation already began with Caesar, continued with Charlemagne and the dictatorships of the twentieth century, until today.

Let’s focus on respectable journalism that spreads news to the best knowledge and belief. In order to define a limit, there are some non-binding rules.

  • On the one hand news should be confirmed by at least two independent sources
  • On the other hand balance should be ensured by the fact that both sides of a conflict should be reported.

You find further aspects here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journalism_ethics_and_standards.

A picture cannot fulfill the two rules.

  • On the one hand a picture is naturally from one source, the camera.
  • On the other hand the picture represents just ONE cutout of the reality that represents only the fraction of a second.

For these reasons a picture is always one-sided and unbalanced.

If we now look at the scribbles, we see four pictures of the same meeting, which were taken within a few minutes. Each picture creates another impression. What are the reasons to select a picture for publication? By looking at the procedure, from taking a picture to publishing, we encounter many filters.

  1. Taking the picture
    Photographers are the first filter. They decide the point of view, the cutout and the moment of the capture. Usually they photograph several photos within a short period. Subsequently, they select the photographs that fulfill the technical requirements – the requested sharpness and brightness of the picture. Additionally, they select images with regular gestures and facial expressions. Eventually the picture shown above end up in the agencies or media,.
  2. Distribution
    An agency is a broker for pictures and news, e.g. Reuters, DPA, ITAR TASS. They buy photos and offer them together with the agency message. The agency is acknowledged as an official source for the media. If two agencies provide the same message, the first rule is fulfilled. This makes the news item to reliable news. The selection criteria for the images are thereby hard to comprehend. In any case the picture selection reduces the message to one defined point of view.
  3. Publication
    The media editors (print, on-line, TV) had their own reporters in former times. That way, they could distinguish themselves from other media providers. Nowadays you hardly find salaried photo reporters. The photos are mostly bought directly from the freelance photographer or an agency. The advantage of an agency is the bundling of the picture with the press release. For cost reasons only the pictures are bought that are eventually published. The editor determines the ‘proof’ for the article by selecting the images.

Eventually the observer decides on its impression. Now look at the sketches above and consider, which picture you would buy!

About the mentioned meeting, on February 9th 2015, different pictures were used in different publications. What impression do the individual pictures create? On the left above? On the bottom left? On the top right? On the bottom right? And what was the real atmosphere of the meeting? Who might know.
In any case, people decided with the selection of the image which impression should generated among the viewers. A picture is worth a thousand words that do not necessarily correspond to the truth.

Bottom line: The times of ‘seeing is believing’ are probably over. Each event has any number of pictures that do not clearly express the real happening. Even blurred mobile phone photographs are used today, in order to convey a message to the public that cannot be guaranteed by the two rules. There is no other choice than dealing critically with these ‘proofs’ and to always consider the possibility that the message is wrong – whether we are deliberately manipulated or not.

P.S.: Do you remember the posed politician photo of the Charlie Hebdo demonstration?

The complete palette affects more and better

As soon as people work together, it is necessary to exchange information. For executives communication is an important function in the context of their leadership tasks *1. The following aspects can be realized through respective measures.

  • The self-understanding will be exchanged.
  • The business model is becoming tangible for everybody.
  • The future direction will be understandable.
  • The tasks, the authority and the responsibility will be substantiated.
  • The rumormongers are dammed through the achieved transparency.
  • The common knowledge is made accessible to all.

Messages affect more and better by using the entire pallete.

Kommunikation

The entire pallete of communication consists of the following objects: Words, pictures, sounds and events.

  • Verbal exchange is determined by the choice of the words, the expression and the topic development. Which are the substantial keywords, stigma words, names, artificial terms as well as synonyms and antonyms? Which modalities should be used (e.g. must, may)? Which metaphors support the topic development?
  • Visual communication consists of the choice of the motives as well as the visual aspects and laws. Which motives represent the topic (e.g. landscapes, people)? Which type of visualization is favorable? Which visual laws have an advantage (e.g. similarity, coherence)?
  • Auditory exchange of information consists also of the choice of the motives as well as the tonal aspects and laws. Which motives represent the topic (e.g. language, music)? Which type of sound is favorable? Which auditory laws have an advantage (e.g. simultaneousness, harmony)?
  • Meetings differ in the type and the form. Which type of communication is most suitable (e.g. event, publication)? Which form is favorable (e.g. workshop, video, discussion)?

The use of the entire pallete increases the attention and the understanding of the target group. In any topic, several elements of the pallete can be used.

*1) Further leadership tasks are the self-management, the conception, the coordination, and the cooperation