The Silent Dialogue from Rude To Ridiculous
Previous parts in the Dialogue series are indexed here:
We have discussed Edward T. Hall's book on cultural anthropology titled The Silent Language which examines cultures and body language, personal "space" and many other topics, most notably how "culture" resides in the subconscious mind.
And more recently The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help--or Hurt--How You Lead Kindle Edition by Carol Kinsey Goman
This book shows how being viewed as a Leader today depends entirely on body language, and believe it or not, how you hold your hand and fingers when you gesture!
This SILENT LANGUAGE OF LEADERS is based on neuroscience, which you'd think would be independent of Culture. But I'd challenge that idea since it has been shown how plastic the human brain is, and how configurable the human genome is. Traumatic and other meaningful experiences in early life can re-arrange your genes and brain synapses so you develop propensities and abilities different from your peers who did not have such experiences.
Yet, humans tend to gravitate toward and organize around a certain type of other human -- and today we call them "Leaders." A science fiction writer can challenge that notion, too. Some Aliens somewhere out there might call those central poles of organization Servants. Think about that. We look up to Leaders. Aliens might look down on them as the British Aristocracy looked down on Tradesmen.
How you regard others, how you sort and group others by the traits you see in them is configured by your Culture. The very definitions of "Good" and "Bad" have huge Cultural components. And Culture is silent. Very silent. Non-verbal.
Most people don't know they have a "culture" or think the word "Culture" means polite or upper crust or high class, or maybe taste.
"Culture" is mostly non-verbal.
Most people can't verbalize the shattering revulsion experienced when they unexpectedly meet up with someone who is extremely rude. They merely judge that person as an intrinsically bad person, not to be associated with.
Other people will view rudeness as if the miscreant were well aware of the proper way to act, but has decided to play the buffoon, the clown, or the disruptor.
One thing most humans do, though, is judge others by their behavior, their language, body language, choice of words (such as invective or 4-syllable-jaw-breakers), and perhaps most of all tone of voice.
All of these parameters are strictly dictated by culture.
Each combination of variables conveys a non-verbal message which is nevertheless dialogue, speech, communication.
Two (or more) people communicate on many levels besides words.
Text narrative fiction writers are hampered by this, while stage and screen actors can creatively and originally invent many unique characters all speaking the same text words.
Text narrative writers can "describe" their Character's actions, but can capture the "style" and thus meaning of the body language only by offering an interpretation of the movement, telling rather than showing what the Character is silently saying.
Readers will read the interpretation and visualize different movements that mean what the writer has told them the Character means. The reader will make up the appearance and movements of the Character according to the reader's culture, or according to the reader's notion of different cultures.
For example, the most eloquent move a Character can make is the SHRUG.
There is the Italian shrug, the Arabic shrug, the Mexican shrug, the teenage defiant shrug, the Southern shrug -- the one shoulder shrug, the both shoulders to the ears shrug, etc. etc. All that doesn't even mention what you do with your hands while you silently deny all knowledge of the subject with a shrug or declare in no uncertain terms that the entire topic is irrelevant with a passive-aggressive assumption of superiority.
By and large, in USA cultures (there are a lot of them!) the shrug is considered rude, especially when it conveys that the topic is irrelevant or unimportant. Teens are excoriated searingly for shrugging to wriggle out of parental interrogations.
Have you ever seen a presenter in a business meeting shrug when the boss asks a question? Maybe after the meeting, when a peer asks, but not during a meeting when the boss asks.
Have you ever seen a Presidential Candidate at a podium before a large audience shrug?
OK, *shrug* -- we have had a lot of actors, performers of considerable skill, running for President, so maybe you've caught one or two shrugging for effect, but not when attempting to project an "image of strength."
In some USA cultures, various shrug-motions are acceptable statements, while others are rude. In other USA cultures, all shrugs are rude.
Another form of culturally nuanced "speech" that can not be captured well in cold text (but that actors can convey in full video) is impatience.
Most of the situations where a writer wants to show a Character being impatient will read as the Character being "weak" or "temperamental" and thus not fit to lead or command, or have their opinion on anything respected.
"Impatience" is considered a Character flaw revealing the flaw of "Bad Judgement."
Judgement is the ability to process vast amounts of apparently trivial data to understand the nature of the problem and find the most efficient way to vanquish that problem, never breaking stride toward the objective.
Deciding "what to do" is just as vital to success as "when to do it." As in comedy, timing is everything.
So those who are seen to be acting correctly, but acting too soon, are seen as "impatient" which makes them just as untrustworthy as those who act too late, or take ineffective action, "too little; too late."
How a given Character is assessed by the Reader depends as much or more on the Reader's culture as it does on how the Character is written or played.
Extend that to how a human reader of today would assess the Character of an Alien, and whether the Alien is seen as "impatient" and thus weak or ineffectual, or as "decisive" and strong.
Does America admire swift action over minimalist action?
Does America admire swift action over effective action?
"America" -- the middle-of-the-road average is the biggest audience a writer can strive to reach. This is true in other countries, too -- the average, middle-road citizen is comprehensible to both extremes. Where exactly that middle is varies from generation to generation and among countries and cultures.
At this time, there is no "American" or USA culture, singular and distinct with rules of Silent Dialogue uniformly distributed. Even by geography we are not a uniform country. Some areas still retain Character, but in any area of the USA you will find individuals from elsewhere diluting the average.
We are a mixed-muddle, so no generalization will hold.
If your Alien crash lands in a backyard in Texas, he might knock on the door (if his culture would include the idea that requesting entry is polite -- it might NOT consider a knock as polite). The Texas resident opening that door might be from New York.
You know the expression, "In a New York Minute." People move faster in New York City -- not so much upstate.
So are New Yorkers "impatient?" Slow-speaking Southerners think so, and many consider it a character flaw to be racing around so fast all the time.
But New Yorkers see their lives as a race. Early bird gets the worm. Whoever is first in line, gets, and others do not. You want the job? Get to the interview early. Even doctor's offices have been known to post signs that if you are 15 minutes late, you will be charged for the visit but will not see the doctor.
The USA was built on many ideas, but one most often quoted (because it's so alien to the denizens of other countries) is TIME IS MONEY.
In other words, time is a commodity.
See the post on Capitalism and how Money can be a commodity just like copyrights can be a commodity.
Time is another property of reality that can be regarded as a commodity and commoditized.
Perhaps Capitalism should not be called Capitalism -- as noted, that is a misnomer -- but rather Commoditism, a process of turning the characteristic properties of reality into trade-goods.
We are seeing physics breach the frontiers of the space-time-continuum, discovering the Higgs Boson and chasing "gravity waves." Black Holes and Dark Matter all trying to get a handle on the nature of Time.
Is Time Travel possible? Is Interstellar travel (or intergalactic) possible?
These are the substance of modern science fiction while fantasy genres explore alternate universes and dimensions where "magic" works and mythical creatures are real.
In our Silent Dialogue we use Time to tell others who we are. How fast you respond to a comment or question, how slowly you move to comply with a request or order, speaks volumes about who you are, who you think you are, and who you think you are relative to everyone else.
For example, if you keep people waiting for you -- say, the family is piling into the car to go see a movie, or guests are gathered in the living room waiting to sit down to dinner -- and you just do not show up "on time" (how early or late you can be and still be 'on time' is a mathematical formula!), you are informing all those people that you and your interests and affairs are more important than their time.
In some cultures, an explanation is due upon arrival, and it better show that your priorities are the same as the priorities of those you kept waiting. In other cultures, any explanation is viewed as an "excuse."
The maxim is never make excuses and never apologize if you want to be respected.
In yet other cultures, following that maxim, or indeed any maxim, is viewed as indication of a weak character.
What might "time" be worth to Aliens on some other planet?
How would Aliens prioritize life-minutes? Who keeps who waiting?
Is there some property of objective Reality that dictates cultural attitudes toward Time, or toward another individual's life-minute?
Today, the USA thinks of those who wait as less important than those who keep others waiting.
For example, a crowd gathers to hear a Presidential Candidate speak, and the Candidate is scheduled to speak at 7:30. The TV cameras light up, the Security folks are their toes, and ten minutes after the appointed moment, a tech comes out and adjusts the microphone -- but no candidate, nothing.
Well, it must be he/she is doing something Important because being The Candidate is Important -- but the audience is not that Important.
Is this cultural value the only possible value? Is this inherent in just being human?
Not necessarily. Aliens might look at the entire procedure very differently, as indeed humans have, in other cultures Historically.
For example, you would think the High Priest working in the Temple in Jerusalem would have been regarded as an Important person doing Important things.
The people who gathered to watch, or to hear the High Priest read from the Torah on Yom Kippur, might be viewed by today's Americans as "less important" than the High Priest. Yet, in that Historic time, there was a hard and fast rule saying the High Priest, no matter what, must not keep the public waiting. Their "time" was important, too, and it was his duty to discharge his duties in the expected time-interval.
Today that translates into a set of Rules regarding the conduct of prayer services. There are sections of Prayer which are flagged "Must Not Interrupt" -- if you are in the middle of such a section, and something happens demanding attention, you must first finish the section. These section demarcations are carefully observed.
HOWEVER, if it should happen that the congregation has gathered and is ready for a section that is to be led by a Reader with specific skills (such as reading aloud from the Torah), or for example, the blowing of the Shofar (the ram's horn), and the ONLY member of the congregation with that skill is in the middle of such a section that must not be interrupted -- then the individual must interrupt that prayer-section and go immediately to serve the congregation with his skill.
The congregation must never be kept waiting, not a New York Minute!
The High Priest or an individual gifted with talent and skill serves the public without delay. That "without delay" rule indicates something basic about the structure of Reality, while the "keep them waiting" rule used by public speakers today violates the strictures of Reality. (small wonder things aren't working too smoothly)
We can only infer what that Structure of Reality might be.
We use our cultural prejudices to make that inference.
For example, we might infer that because "The High Priest" is not "more important" than "The Public" (because he can't keep the public waiting) therefore "The Public" is more important than the "High Priest."
But that would be a reasonable inference only if "important" and "more important" is part of the reality matrix. Perhaps no ONE human is "more important" than another, so that since the High Priest is only one person, and the crowd of The Public is lots of people, the crowd is "more important?" Or maybe "important" can not be attributed to a mortal being? Perhaps deeds can be "important" if performed at a certain time, but people don't have the attribute "important?"
Leaders, bosses, decision-makers whose decisions must be implemented, holders and wielders of "Power" are nothing but servants of The Public. There deeds of service are important. They, themselves, are not.
Aliens might look at it that way.
As writers, trying to create plausible Aliens, we have to be aware of all the ways different human cultures have viewed that objective Structure of Reality, the dimension of Time.
For example, the Navajo saw Time in a very different way than the settlers of the Old West, which led to a lot of scorn and uncooperativeness on both sides. "Lazy Indians?" Far, far from it! But they wouldn't show up for work "on time" or get the job done by "quitting time." Unemployable, lazy good-for-nothings -- right?
So given the panoply of views among just one species, humans, imagine how Aliens would see Time -- and consequently how they would "speak" in their "Silent Dialogue."
Music and dance are forms of communication stretched along linear Time.
Music, we define as Sound. But maybe it can be Silent?
Dance, is movement usually to a rhythm, but even a drumbeat can be silent, just a Conductor waving his/her hands.
As Media Announcers learn to speak in a "tune" and cadence that just reeks "newscaster" or whatever role they are playing, so too do humans speak in tune and accompany the articulated sound with eye-blinks, hip-shifts, shoulder-shrugs, lip-twitches, and a thousand tiny movements that others respond to.
"Friends" move together when speaking -- eye-blinks synchronize -- and thus friends acquire the feeling that the other person understands them as no one else does.
It is a well documented feature of human communication, something we do entirely unconsciously. It is possible that the aversion some people feel to communicating even via video chat is due to a failure to synchronize body language. It's not "real" if you can't sit with a person, face to face, and assess them by how well and quickly they synchronize with you.
But what if Aliens felt threatened by the human unconscious tendency to "mirror" twitches and fidgets? What if, to the Aliens, this involuntary movement was not fraught with deepest meaning, as it is with humans?
Perhaps the British "upper crust" trained not to fidget in earliest youth, to keep that "stiff upper lip" were favored over Americans? For that matter, the inscrutable Japanese and Chinese cultural facial non-expression might be preferred - but even they blink their eyes.
How do you assess (judge) a person who fails to "synchronize" with you? Can you have a meaningful conversation with someone who zigs when you expect them to zag?
How many of your limited life-minutes would you spend/waste on who keeps you waiting, who won't synchronize eye-blinks, who can't dance with you?
What would your Main Character make of such an Alien? How could the communications breakthrough to save Humanity be made with no words to speak?
And of course, there's assessing whether the Alien is lying to you, saying the correct words but telegraphing an opposite meaning -- not just failing to communicate but mis-communicating. What do you report to your boss when asked what's "really" going on?