5. Behavioral Consequences


We react to the events, people, and situations we encounter. We can deliberately evaluate our experiences before we react. We have the cognitive means to respond to events conditionally — not automatically, like Pavlov’s dog. However, we often allow certain words, labels, symbols, etc., to determine our reactions, rather than responding to the real-world referents the labels stand for. Sometimes we fail to delay our actions, judgments, and responses. We jump to conclusions, overlook details, and don’t critically differentiate this experience from similar experiences. Sometimes we allow ourselves to be fooled, managed, and manipulated when we don’t vigilantly guard against mistaking the word as the thing, or when we fail to discern that the map is not the territory.

  • We have limitations as to what we can experience through our senses. Given these limitations, we can never experience ‘all’ of what’s ‘out there’ to experience; we abstract only a portion.
  • Our awareness of ‘what goes on’ outside of our skin is not the same as the experience itself. Our awareness of our experience is not the silent, first-order, neurological experience.
  • Given our ever-changing environment (which includes ourselves and our awareness of ourselves), we never experience the ‘same’ person, event, situation, thing, experience, etc., more than once.
  • To the degree that our reactions and responses to all forms of stimuli are automatic, or conditioned, we copy animals, like Pavlov’s dog. To the degree that our reactions and responses are more controlled, delayed, or conditional to the given situation, we exhibit our uniquely-human capabilities.
  • We each experience uniquely, according to our individual sensory capabilities, integrating our past experiences and expectations. We ought to maintain an attitude of ‘to-me-ness’ in our evaluations of our own behavior, as well as in our evaluations of others’ behavior.
  • Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950) wrote the source book for what he called “general semantics,” Science and Sanity. We can think of general semantics as a methodology for understanding, and improving, how we individually perceive, construct, evaluate, and then respond to meaningful life events — including our language behaviors.
  • We can use this process of abstracting (also referred to in general terms as evaluating) as a method for determining whether or not reactions to specific events make sense, or are appropriate to the event. We can also apply this process as a means to analyze stereotypes, biases, and prejudices.
  • When we act upon our inferences as though they were facts, we invite problems of misunderstanding, miscommunication, and worse.
  • We are much more prone to see similarities than differences. This often results in our thinking in terms of categories, labels, and classifications rather than the specific or individual item we’re concerned with. This tendency to generalize, and difficulty in recognizing differences, leads to stereotyping, biases, and prejudices.
  • The ability to differentiate, or see fine differences, is the mark of the expert, the teacher, the trainer, the coach.
  • We can apply this process of abstracting (or evaluating) to increase awareness of our own behaviors and minimize the effects of fear, pain, anticipation, anxiety, etc.
  • It’s not unusual for individuals to respond to words or symbols in ways that are not appropriate or productive.
  • We are also susceptible to seeing and feeling differently about ‘something’ depending on what words or images are associated with the ‘something’ we’re concerned with.
  • We can think of words and language as ‘maps’ that are used to relate our experiences. As a good map must accurately fit the territory it attempts to represent, our words and language should be used with care to accurately fit our experiences. However, it’s easy for a careless mapmaker to distort or misrepresent a region of a map, and in the same way it’s easy for each of us, whether intentionally or carelessly, to use words to distort or misrepresent our experiences or thoughts.
  • Humor often exploits recognizable stereotypes, which can help us recognize our biases and indiscriminate judgments.
  • Just like coins, currency, art, and real estate have no inherent value, words and symbols contain no inherent meaning.
  • Given that each of us come from different cultural backgrounds and a unique-to-us set of life experiences and perspectives, it’s not appropriate to think that someone can truly be “objective.”
  • “You’ve got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made, and people whose skin is a different shade.”
  • We should consider the effects that words — especially words exhorting fear, hate, and violence — can have on some individuals.

Abstracting and Evaluating (4:15)

from Talking Sense, Irving J. Lee (1952)