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Art & Culture, Digital Media & Communications

The paradoxical entanglement of the self and the other

Whether it’s within an interpersonal, business, or cultural relational dynamic, the heightened understanding of the others’ cognition, emotions, and sensations seems out of subjective reach. Why do we find it so difficult to ‘place ourselves in the others’ shoes’? The process of identifying with the object (the other) requires disciplinary action given the existence of self-perception. Self-perception is accentuated through what one perceives in their internal state along with present and past external influences. So if self-perception involves external influences, the others, then why does one continue to struggle with understanding? The simple reason is communicative barriers.

One cannot fully transpose into objective realization through self-immersion because one is restricted through communication. First, “perceptions only indirectly reflect reality; they are colored and shaped by influences ranging from the imperfections of vision to the distorting pressures of hopes and desires” (Pronin). An individual has the ability to understand the others’ cognition, emotions, and sensations but is prevented by his/her own thoughts and experiences creating static interference when communicating. How do we overcome this perplexing obstacle? First, we need to address some of the problems associated with these communication barriers.

  • Social conformity – Least coercive form of obedience. When people are presented with social norms, they feel pressurized to conform leading to a distortion in perception and a dissonance between individualization and society.
  • Illusion of self– People often possess a high regard for themselves either through blatant self-exaltation, avoiding blame, self-absorptive behavior, etc.
  • Cultural differences – everyone has a different story to tell but we all live in the same space – our planet – so we have a basic understanding of ‘background.’ However, we are not globally integrated enough to always fully understand others’ cultural values and belief systems on a subjective level.
  • Objective realism – The belief and idea that others interact and observe their surroundings in similar ways. The core of naive realism is the conviction that one perceives objects and events “as they are”—in other words, that there is an objective reality to which one’s perceptions correspond in a more or less one-to-one manner (Ross & Ward, 1995, 1996).

In order to surpass the barriers mentioned, one must take on an inductive approach. Stuart Diamond defines the inductive process as, “starting from each situation and then figuring out the exact strategies and tools that are likely to be most effective.” Another concept to take into consideration is inter-subjectivity, the understanding and relatedness of a concept or idea through psychological means. “If intentions develop inside words, they also appear between them. If discourse is meaningful, so too is silence: the gaps between words also have their eloquence. To understand the other, it’s not enough understanding what [s/he] says; it is also understanding what [s/he] does not say but what [her/his] presence expresses all the same” (Serge Carfantan). Within the concept of inter-subjectivity, there is understanding and relatedness given the state of social being. If that relatedness and understanding can be achieved through psychological conceptualization and social integration, perhaps we can overcome the restrictive communicative barriers of understanding self and other.

So next time you’re negotiating with someone, keep an eye on their body language – do their shoulders tense, their eyebrows raise or their fists clench? In my next post, I will further discuss the connection of inter-subjectivity, embodiment, and negotiation in terms of avoiding conflict and establishing a peace-based solution. Stay plugged and share your opinions!




  1. Pingback: Say You’re Wrong So You Can Be Right « Integrated Communications - September 16, 2012

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