“You Are Not Hearing Me!”: Principles of Dialogue & Communication

The previous post in this series has provided a historical contextualization of the evolution of means of dialogue and communication, but we now must dive deeper and explore what constitutes dialogue. After all, a means of communication is useless if the there is no communication occurring. But this raises an important question: what is the nature of communication and dialogue? To answer this we will utilize the climax of the recent Western film Hostiles which we reviewed recently, which is natural given that this film was the driving impetus behind this series.

We will situate ourselves in the climax of the film where our travelers have finally reached their destination of the ancestral homeland of our Indian Chief Yellow Hawk where he will be buried. However, the ritual is interrupted as the new owners of the land, a group of hard-edged ranchers, arrive and immediately start the discussion on not so friendly terms. It is this exchange in dialogue between the ranchers and Joseph that will provide a narrative reference for our analysis.

Jospeh informs the men that he has explicit orders directly from the President of the United States to transport Yellow Hawk to his homeland and lay him to rest amongst his ancestors. The ranchers are unconvinced by this direct order from the President despite Joseph presenting documents cementing his case and proclaim that the President cannot tell him what they may or may not do on the land. Joseph attempts to salvage some sort of dialogue by informing the ranchers that he understands their grievances and lack of notification of this burial, but that they must understand the exceptional circumstances of the situation and respect the wishes of the the Chief and the President. This does nothing to improve the standing between the two parties and the ranchers quickly order our travelers to immediately vacate the property and carry the corpse of Yellow Hawk as they will not tolerate a ‘savage’ being buried on their land. This only further escalates the volatility of the exchange and our key moment springs to life: Joseph proclaims that the ranchers are not hearing what he has to say to which the ranchers reply that Joseph is not hearing what they have to say. With no Modus Vivendi (peaceful resolution) in sight guns are drawn and blood is spilt and the tragedy and danger of ignorance is unfolded.

Although this scene may seem fairly shallow and par for the course in a Western, that position is lacking and misses the deeper themes implicit in it. In order to understand this scene we must start with the statement “You are not hearing me” as our founding premise. This statement is especially interesting when we ask the question why are they unable to hear each other? Both Joseph and the ranchers speak English which eliminates any potential language barriers and both have a shared cultural and socio-economic background as hard-working Anglo-Saxon Americans. Furthermore, the phrase has a more paradoxical aspect when we realize the fact that both men have the physical ability to detect sound waves and are not suffering from deafness or any other sensory limitation.  This begs the question: why are they not able to hear each other in light of the fact that there are no apparent obstructions preventing them from literally hearing each other?

This suggests that the essence of dialogue is something non-physical, although that is not to say that terrestrial factors like language or culture have no bearing whatsoever, which is a silly position, but that it is secondary in importance when considering the overall hierarchy of the elements constituting the totality of communication.  Additionally, dialogue and communication fundamentally require shared essential or founding ideas and values for it to be productive. By extension, this means that communication is predicated in ideas and mans Intellect, and to tie this with the scene in context, it means that physical conflicts are simply manifestations of a conflict of ideas and vision. If we extend this principle even further to the contemporary global climate we see why nearly all dialogues or exchanges are doomed from the start because there is no shared principles and ideas to provide a framework of reference. The phenomenon of television and internet  interviews or debates is unraveled at its root and explains why these endeavors devolve to hostility, shouting matches, and pointless conversations that start nowhere and get nowhere.  These attempts at dialogue amount simply to pure sophistry not concerned at all with ideas or Intellectual exploration and crash and burn into intellectual wreckage and chaos under the weight of their own stupidity and superficiality.

We are now faced with a interesting question: what can transcend these semantic games and sophistry to provide meaningful dialogue? This question will lay the foundation for our concluding post in this series and allow us to get to the bottom of this phenomenon. We will leave a quote commonly attributed to Plato but regardless of its authorship what is important is its wisdom.

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something”

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