On Being a Successful Communicator: How DOES one mediate difficult topics?

Feral Plains Artist Lips sewn with heart      Communication

The topic of organ transplantation is an inherently weighty one. It touches upon themes of life and death, suffering and redemption, tragedy and advanced biotechnological innovation. On a basic level, how does one mediate this complexity to the mainstream?

And on a deeper level, how might one -how might I- go about successfully communicating the previously uncharted difficulties and complexities contained in heart transplantation?

Let us rewind a moment, before we proceed to the main matter of this blog post.

I have a confession to make. One which is personally shameful to me, a source of emotional “heartache”. But the sooner there is clarity and openness, the sooner I can move forward and work on the half a dozen half-written articles that have been hidden away and sequestered out of sight.

At the inception of this site and this year, I had a plan for the topics I would write about, and a schedule all set out for release dates of a variety of content. It would be weekly. From interviews, articles, primary source archives, literature reviews and news features- all ways to mediate transplant related topics.

If I’m being honest with myself and you – though it pains me to come clean instead of pretending occasional posts were entirely intentional – I haven’t kept to it. And no, not just because “life got busy”.

True, it has been quite an undertaking for me, to juggle: postgraduate study, being an assistant in a University enhancement (outdoor nature spaces) project, hosting Introvert-friendly events as part of the University’s widening inclusivity representation, as well as working part-time. Indeed, I also ended up setting aside time from this January to the end of February to research and arrange moving from one place to another (due to my previous housemates’ increasingly indoor smoking being a threat to my well being that I was unwilling to allow).

However, because I believe that with enough willpower, organisation and prioritisation, it is possible to achieve anything, therefore- in my mind- my going MIA in publishing regular content has a different primary cause.

In my mind, the main cause is that, due to one or two…how shall I put it, “interpersonal incompatibilities” (basically relationship-ending disagreements with an acquaintance and then shortly after a significant other) I have been doubting my articulation abilities.

My perfectionism has been compelling me to obsessively seek a leveling-up of my communication approach. Additionally, I have been honing my self-awareness and switching my prioritisation of values to favour harmony and clarity gained by “common ground”, over ideals of “truth” and “unfiltered self-expression” (which I have previously referred to as “authenticity”).

I feel that it would be better to assume that I have something to learn in communication, than to simply assume (as a fair few people in my life have advised me to) that sometimes people (such as those I got into disagreements with) would rather live in denial and reject people (in this case, me) for being honest, than reconsider their perspectives and potentially their worldview.

This personal development in reflecting upon communication has arisen in tandem with my realisation that I have also been silencing myself out of a deep fear of negative responses from all those involved professionally in the sphere of “thinking” transplantation.

Medical professionals can determine my health… and therefore my physical existence. Academics have the power to determine my intellectual qualifications (through grading, which inherently in a humanities degree, will involve some subjectivity). And potential Artistic-Scientific Collaborators have the power to determine whether I am to be included. And, perhaps in terms of associated work experience, they would be able to impact my long-term financial health— my ability to turn my passion into a career, and in this manner… therefore would impact my ability to financially support and thus maintain being able to pay rent, buy food etc., and therefore affect my physical wellbeing.

And so, understandably, I have been paralysed by what feels like a very real danger of ruining my existence by inadvertently not communicating in a way which meets the approval of others.

Admittedly, the nuanced reality is that on one level I have continuously retained a degree of quiet confidence in my verbal articulation abilities, and in my writing skill (though I am sure I still have much to learn and build upon). Recent successes in speaking as a representative and in academic assignments have added affirmation to my capabilities.

Yet- the possibility that a single stride forwards can be revealed as a misstep has been haunting me. Since —ultimately and above all else— I value connection, it makes sense that I have been overwhelmed by thoughts of the possibility of alienating the very communities that have taken me under their wings, as well as those who I might otherwise potentially work with in the future.

Upon reflection I have had a few insights.

My fear of ostracisation is rooted in my knowing that my desire to ‘go there’ into ‘the unknown’ in the realm of ideas, delving into and exploring (and thus, by extension being associated with) taboo topics and non-standard transplant narratives increases my chances of being perceived as unpredictable and be received as potentially threatening to those who are desperate or determined to get the mainstream narrative out there.

I have stuck upon another insight. That my deep fear of ostracisation of mine is as equally great as the immense feeling of calling to be vocationally involved in being an intermediary, or philosopher, in this field; as well as being diametrically proportional to my potential to share a unique yet synthesising (individual AND universal) perspective.

My fear is proportional to my love of thinking through this topic.

It is indeed close to my heart. And so, it makes sense that my heart has been heavy.

 

On Successfully Communicating:  How to be a Mediator between “Self” and “Other”

1. Communication of complexity that is culturally approved

This requires the ability to translate specialised topics into succinct bite-sized ideas. These ideas tend to be metaphors that are relatable and affirmative of established cultural beliefs.

Since culturally approved of ideas tend to be intertwined with most people’s “identity”, mediating the movement of an idea is best envisaged as the transfer of ‘self’ to another ‘self’. Keeping things within the same family, so to speak; familiarity is the crux of communicating common-or-garden complexity.

For example:

With transplantation there is the idea of the organ being separable from the donor. It makes sense, the organ is after all physically removed from the donor who has no more use for it. This is why a transplantable organ can be codified as a “spare part”. Along with this phrase, metaphors of post heart transplant check-ups are frequently colloquially called ‘MOTs’, whereby testing of the cardiovascular system and closely intertwined biological systems becomes analogous to testing the tubing and the motor and fuel tank in a car. Through this succinct metaphor of communicating transplantation, here a transplanted heart can be viewed solely as a replacement of a mechanical part, like with a car.

These metaphors for the human body rest upon the conceptual framework of the human body as functioning as though it were a machine. Since most of science presupposes and rests upon the notion that it is possible to consistently measure and know the “cause and effect” of a being’s functioning, the machine model is a common lens applied to the biology of the human being.

The reality of it being a metaphor rather than fact- even if the metaphor is a true reality- is clear in how uneasy seeing humanity as entirely mechanical makes us. We see it is the need to hold on the the idea that there is some additional, mysterious, transcendental spark, some unknowable Prime Mover beyond the body. Indeed arguably transplantation relies on this metaphysical idea just as much as the primarily physical conception of humanity.

Yet, one thing is sure, and that is that —overall— culturally affirmed lenses such as the aforementioned require a contemporary metaphor to crystallise the communication of fact. Basic communication is found on reduction of multifaceted complexity into the form of a singular object; for we can only take in information in pieces with our logical, sequential, minds.

If even culturally approved ideas contain the possibility for miscommunication due to culturally affirmed ideas ultimately being filtered through the subjective lenses of individuals—imagine how much more easily miscommunication occurs when the object of communication is subversive: other, different, challenging.

Indeed, a frequent commentary upon the relativity of perspectives is the idiom that truths that operate by different paradigms as perceived as lies and falsities.

 

2. Communication of complexity that is subversive

Communication, in its complexity -most especially with the subversive- is an art and a science which is a matching game with words, whereby the goal is to take an idea that is being held in one’s mind and transfer (…transplant…) it smoothly into the mind of another.

With organ transplantation the observable difference is in the unfamiliar DNA;  with idea-transplantation the observable difference is in the specific perceptual paradigm one belongs.

As with transplantation, with communication of a foreign linguistic code there are risks.

Firstly with the mechanical operation of the movement of ideas itself and then, once the foreign idea has been placed into the native environment, there is a danger of rejection. The threat of death- the obliteration of existence- haunts at each stage.

Rejection via misunderstood communication arises when the idea doesn’t quite fit into the gap left by the opening-wide probing that questioning evokes. Perhaps the idea, the object to be transplanted, is not a “good match” with the recipient…

…And following this metaphor to its inevitable conclusion— in the matter of communication: What could function as an immunosuppressant—- to put down the walls of an immune system built, to oppose a (seeming) ‘foreign’ object?  

Bearing in mind that a state that is open to the incorporation of “the other” is a vulnerable one, one with a less clearly defended sense of “self”, one more fluid and receptive to transformation than rigidly enforcing borders of “self” and “other”, and we only can control how WE interact with those we hope can be receptive…

What can WE do to encourage the spirit of immunosuppression; the spirit of lowered boundaries between self and other?

Or, put in more well-worn psychological language…

What qualities ought we to adopt to avoid putting people on the defensive?

  • Welcoming and celebration of “the other”: A curiosity about that which is different, foreign, and new. The skill of nurturing new frontiers of thought (including attendant internal thoughts and feelings) with positive appreciation (not just associating technological-external- innovation with positivity). This quality “on steroids” may well be the art of being a good host; having the ability to be courteous and curious even when confronted with challenge.
  • Openness about the fragility of existence. Here, this reality of the immunocompromised patient can be translated in terms of transplanting ideas. By openly acknowledging the transience of truth and the likely relativity of OUR individual perspective, by being less attached and loosening our grasp upon the fixed life of our preferred perspective(s), we become less identified with preferred ideas and therefore create a more mutable atmosphere of intellectual flexibility. This makes it become much more likely that those we interact with will feel more at ease being able to loosen THEIR identification with their perspectives too—- allowing for greater receptivity.
  • Empathy: being able to step into the intellectual and emotional perspective of another, being sensitive to allow ourselves to receive the thoughts and feelings within the people we encounter, in relation to their perspectives on ideas- and then interact with them in a way that accounts for the reality that we find.
  • Mindful Vigilance of Extra Dangers: an open acknowledgement of the likelihood of additional medi(c)ation required. Instead of high rates of infection and thus antibiotics we can substitute authorities institution-sanctioned bursts of approval (that forcefully go against the “life” of the status quo”). In the place of regular medical monitoring and tests, in the realm of communication we can review things by appointing those whose role it is to mediate the synthesising of perspectives.

 

These strategies are all quite applicable to many areas of life, when interacting with people who we hope are receptive to- at least for a while- a transplant of our ideas.

I imagine that, if I were to commit to incorporating these ways of connecting with others more effectively, both interpersonally and professionally, disagreements (both feared and actual) would be less likely to arise.

 

Communication: Honouring Traditions AND Striving for Innovation

For a long time, the following of social rituals and structures of propriety have been essential for smoothing interactions along and therefore successful communication. The necessity to honour convention remains, to some extent: it is important to acknowledge and honour the mainstream perspectives.

Communication, after all, usually involves saying what has already been said- just in a way, with a phrasing, that sheds greater illumination upon the idea, than the older iteration perhaps did.

Now that my self-silencing is at an end… May those with the authority to either positively or negatively impact my life look kindly upon what I have communicated here. I have plenty to share in relation to the positives of transplantation (indeed my current busy lifestyle is a testament to transplantation in its own right). The thing about communication blocks is that self-silencing doesn’t discriminate; it shuts off the enthusiasm for sharing the positive, too.

 

Open Call for Dialogue on Communication

Having begun exploring how to mediate difficult ideas through transplantation and immunosuppression as a sagacious and illuminative metaphor, I am curious to hear what others have to suggest regarding how to practically communicate the complex and the controversial.

Please do feel free to comment below (or alternatively feel free to contact me privately).

Some questions to consider:

  1. How would you recommend that one goes about communicating the complexity and difficulty of transplantation with clarity and harmony?
  2. How might taboo transplant topics (such as black-market organ harvesting, to brain death controversies and religion-related anti-transplant narratives) be approached in a way that seriously investigates them, and potentially honours their perspective and realities, while simultaneously holding in one’s mind and honouring and celebrating the mainstream transplant narratives and ideas?

Tomasz Alen Kopera Art Bridging two perspectives

Artist Credits: Feral Plains (top) & Tomasz Alen Kopera (bottom).