What we have here is a failure to communicate

The best conversations come when working with someone on some physical task, such as putting up tomato sauce or pulling weeds.  But with some people, the lure of their self-reinforcing circular thought patterns is too much and they are pulled away from work and into talk.  They get little done except follow me around the garden.  I pull weeds and they talk.

cool-hand-lukeWhen some people say they value communication, they really mean they just like to talk.  They have lots they want to say and they want you to appear attentive while they say it.

Politicians are very good at appearing attentive.  I’ve had lots of meetings in Washington, D.C., with politicians who have perfected that skill.  They are very cordial and appear to be listening carefully, but you could say anything you want and they wouldn’t change their attitude of attentive listening.  They’ve learned to lie even with their nonverbal behavior.

That was the reason actors were long refused Christian burials.  If your life and your profession was built on deceiving people, you couldn’t expect good treatment from the Church. At some point in the last century or so, actors somehow gained more respectability.  Everyone no longer thinks of them as immoral, flighty, silly buffoons.  They still are, as are politicians, but popular opinion has devolved.

Politicians have to appeal to as many people as possible.  They can only win over audiences with opposite opinions if they appear to agree with opposing audiences.  Emotion, deceptive nonverbal behavior and fancy language often succeeds.

I’ve never been a good politician.  My nonverbal behavior is too strong and too uncontrollable.  Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t control my nonverbal behavior.  People know what I really believe before I say anything.  But only on basic emotions and feeling.  If the topic is interesting or complex at all, the conversation quickly goes beyond anything that can be expressed in nonverbal behavior.  Then it gets fun.

People who like to talk a lot often have little interesting to say.  Sometimes they are just boring people not interested in anything abstract.  But some are extremely intelligent and love abstract ideas. They get wrapped up in their words and get little done.  They are prisoners of their verbiage.

Sometimes I meet people who seem to have spent their whole adult lives just talking about the same circular set of ideas and never gotten anything done.  Once you understand their assumptions, you can enter into their particular consciousness and even have a conversation with them.  Sometimes I’ve succeeded in convincing them that they should pull out of their internal monologue and get some work done.  Usually their self-reinforcing mental constructs pull them back into thought and away from action.

At Meadowcreek, work and action are required to survive and thrive.  But we are also exploring fascinating abstract concepts like resilience.  So we like good conversation, especially when it happens while we are working.

People often forget that good conversation is a two way street.  They aren’t really listening to what the other person is saying.  They are just waiting for an opportunity to make their next point. They enjoy talking with you when you ask them lots of questions about them and their ideas.  “That’s enough talk about me, now let’s talk about what you think of me.”

Resilient ecosystems are all about conversations.  The conversations aren’t verbal and they aren’t abstract, but they are important. They comprise the feedback and connections between systems.

Resilient systems have a few strong connections and a plethora of weak connections.  Resilient people have a few good friends and a lot of people they know and interact with.  A resilient forest survives flood, fire and wind through tight connections between plants and soil organisms and loose connections with a variety of other plant and animal species.  They are networked, but independent.  They have modular connectivity.


For more on ecological connections and how they are related to resilient systems, see the first chapter of our book by clicking here.

For a video on one of the most famous uses of the term “failure to communicate,”   see the movie Cool Hand Luke.