Conversation is so close to us, so pervasive, that we don’t see how significant it can be.
Sometimes we need a reframe to see things that are so close to us.
In a 1956 edition of American Anthropologist, an article by Horace Miner, “Body Ritual among the Nacirema”, describes the “magical beliefs and practices” of a tribe observed by Miner in great detail and expresses concern about several of the group’s slightly masochistic tendencies. Some of the Nacirema customs include scraping and lacerating the face or legs with a sharp instrument, piercing the skin with sharp instruments and then taking great care to keep those holes from closing again, painting of the body, and inserting and ritualistically moving a bundle of hog hairs in the mouth several times a day. The people of this tribe seek the assistance of medicine men many times during the course of a year to treat physical ailments, release them from the power of devils that have lodged in their heads, and gouge holes in their teeth. (This last is done in the hopes of avoiding oral decay and offending one’s friends). The Nacirema gather in large numbers to watch clans within the tribe enact small battles, often with many physical injuries, and to observe individual tribal members fight to unconsciousness.” (source: http://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/icl004.pdf)
If you were a teacher, how would you deal with Nacirema children in your classroom who insisted on maintaining their tribal customs?
What does Nacirema spell backward?
Now go take another look at what’s happening at your workplace through the window of conversation. Which conversations are routine and smooth like shaving, and which ones are scraping and lacerating the face or legs with a sharp instrument? Which conversations hurt a bit, because “You can’t think decently if you don’t want to hurt yourself” (Wittgenstein), and which are just like piercing the skin with sharp instruments and then taking great care to keep those holes from closing again. Which conversations support good relational hygiene, and which might as well be inserting and ritualistically moving a bundle of hog hairs in the mouth several times a day?
The choice is yours. How you see things, how you name them, and how you design in response to them.
Changing the ways people talk to get work done.
New work? New conversation! Change Conversation.