Most of the time we are not conscious of how our verbal maps are being born. General Semantics outlines two basic deviations in our language behaviour connected with this: identification and bypassing.
The experiences of what we are receiving through our human neurology are unique.
And even though what we receive is already “edited” by our organism, how we put it into words “reduces” it even more.
“Identification” is basically a “failure” to discern the gap between the sensory experience and the verbalisation of it.
Or “whatever we may say something ‘is’ obviously is not the ‘something’ on the silent levels” as Korzybski put it (1948).
The main idea here is that each minute we experience an abstraction of something else.
“Bypassing” is when we are focusing on the message instead of a person.
As if words had their own meanings.
We forget that the verbalization of one’s experience is only a “map” and it has no definite way of interpretation. Bypassing is also assuming that what one is speaking and what the other is hearing is directly equivalent.
Our verbal maps would serve us better and not destroy us, if we were conscious of these two “features” of our language behavior, especially when we engage in some emotional conversations.
Every day we are “drawing maps of our territories” by expressing ourselves through language.
Look at how many distortions happen at the level of our maps when we don’t pay enough attention to where our responses come from.
MAPS WITHOUT TERRITORIES
Every day we produce numerous so-called “maps without territories.”
These maps represent our process of self –talk and accidental hijacking of our brain by emotions when the mind starts producing monologues that refer to emotions only and have “no territory” of the actual event.
OLD MAPS – NEW TERRITORIES
We have a tremendous tendency to apply “old maps” to the new territories…General Semantics views these cases as distortion in time and space, which any normal human demonstrates in varying degrees.
When unconsciously using an old map for the new territory we diminish our observational sensitivity by finding an old pattern of thinking and the “relevant” body-mind (and hence verbal) reaction in response to the new scenery.
Unconscious of reacting to a new event as if it had the same quality as the situation from the past we create a loop where the whole new experience is defined by “an old map.”
Making silent levels consciously observed (or provoking neurological delay), we give ourselves space to feel the ambiance of a new experience, recognize it and consequently “ask” for a different resolution within us, or a new map.
We distort other peoples’ maps by assuming more than listening.
We adopt other peoples’ maps by copying someone’s language without any insight into the “territory” of their experience but because we like the language and apply it offhand to our own unknown territories. This is especially true when we speak or listen about experiences that are not physically observable.
We get lost in each others’ maps. We go 180 degrees in two different directions while sitting at the same table and talking in front of each other.
An interesting observation was made in some Neuro — Linguistic Programming exercises utilising “map — territory” principle, that indeed when two people have very different “maps” (read: “understanding, way of thinking”) for “the same territory”, it is very unlikely that they will meet, even physically.
This is yet another way of looking at why our paths meet or diverge during lifetimes.
Although many of the outlooks Korzybski laid out provoked initial ambivalence at that time and couldn’t be appreciated broadly, later the Gestalt Therapy’s principles were built on it.
Today as people become more interested in conscious living, mindfulness is a part of our culture.
And yet the exquisiteness of thought, which permeates all the work of General Semantics, even today brings lots of subtle understandings of our nature in the pursuit to become mindful and more intimate with ourselves.
Many important conversations between us happen without words, but when words are inevitable — let’s prolong the silence before we speak.
Let’s appreciate our human nature of abstracting and learn how to listen to the NEW experiences that are wanting to come through when we are talking to each other…
Even a millisecond can change the world … and some words endure with us forever …