Author: Bach, Gene

Dialog, debate, and the art of interactive conversation
It’s a given that everyone who has had contact with another person more than once in their lives has been involved in some kind of debate. It could be said that the only one we agree with all the time is ourselves, and even then we change our minds on occasion, so truthfully we are never in complete communion with anyone on a constant basis.

Those of us who are married are painfully aware that meaningful communication is one of the hardest things we will ever attempt to accomplish. In the twenty-five plus years that I have been attached to my wife I have had to learn a new language called “girl”, while she has had to learn “boy”. For instance, when she brushes by me and in passing says, “Hmm, it looks like the trash can is full”, I have learned that what she’s really saying is, “You need to take out the trash.” When she stands at the window looking across the yard and says, “Hmm, the grass is getting pretty tall” What she is really saying is, “You need to mow the lawn.” This all sounds easy enough to learn but it took me a long, long time to get to this point and even today, missing a “signal” can have disastrous results. It’s a fine line to walk and the dented frying pan in the kitchen is evidence of the fact that I don’t always get it right.

Touch is another way my family has communicated with me. When my wife sits down beside me, puts her hand on my arm, and makes sure I am looking at her before she begins to speak, I know that what is about to flow out of her mouth is important. Years ago one of my daughters was trying to tell me something and I really wasn’t paying attention. She walked over to me, placed her hands on either side of my face, looked me in the eyes and said, “Dad, are you listening to me?” If I had a dollar for every time my wife had smacked me for popping off with a joke when I should have held my peace I’d be able to afford a Lloyd Loar signed mandolin. Yes, touch can be a powerful thing. Body language is another form of communication that can be quite helpful when it comes to understanding meaning or intent. I have played in two separate bands with my wife over the years and in both instances watching her body language has been of great benefit to me. Like many pickers I tend to speed up while playing a song. My wife, who plays bass, is a staunch proponent of staying in time. After much study I have learned that if she is scowling at me and bouncing her head in conjunction with the beat that I probably need to pay more attention to the speed at which I’m playing. Watching how she acts, or reacts, to various outside stimuli has taught me a great deal about understanding meaning without the spoken word.

In the preceding paragraphs we have seen how important being face to face with your target of conversation can be. However, in today’s world of computers and internet forums such luxuries can not always be counted upon. Forums and message boards have become a common way of keeping in touch with others who share our interests. Although convenient, and often times extremely useful, what is said using these paths of communication can easily be taken wrong. Without the ability to physically look at the person you are talking to it’s often hard to truly understand what they are saying, or how they are saying it. A joke, or tease, spoken where others can see a smile, can be misunderstood as a cutting remark when typed and placed upon a computer screen. The inability to immediately question the intent of a speaker can be frustrating for us when we have become used to instant gratification. Having to wait for a response, sometimes in terms of days, is something we may not be particularly fond of. This is a large disadvantage of internet communication.

Sometimes when we get behind the keyboard we transform from mild mannered pickers into nine-foot tall monsters. This can often result in us saying something in type that we would never dream of saying in person. It can create anger and a hostile environment and when that occurs, it is next to impossible for any meaningful discussion to take place. Trust me; I speak from personal experience when I say that it is far simpler to take your time and type to be understood civilly than to blurt out something in for the world to see and then have to try and retract it later. We’ve all had to eat a large slice of crow pie at some point in our lives and so far I’ve never heard anyone ask for a second helping. We, at the California Bluegrass Association, have been given a wonderful opportunity to converse with other pickers through the use of the message board. Used properly many good things can happen because of that and a great deal of meaningful discussions can take place. Since the board is monitored by our board (of directors that is) it’s a wonderful chance to make our voices heard without actually attending an official meeting. This can be quite beneficial since some of us must travel many miles if we’d like to attend a meeting.

It would behoove us all to take our time and carefully choose our words when posting on the message board, especially when addressing potentially controversial subjects. Since sometimes we can not understand the seriousness of a post we might want to take a breath and try and type things in a clear and concise manner. As hard as it may be, try and form responses in a non-accusatory fashion and don’t take it personally if a response seems to be particularly piercing. Obviously direct personal attacks are another matter, but there are already ways in place with which to deal with those. Additionally, disregard the trolls. Every board has them and they only thrive when allowed to do so.

In closing I would like to thank the CBA for maintaining the message board. I would also like to thank those who post upon it with the intent of being a part of the process as opposed to a hindrance to the mission of the CBA. The voicing of ideas, as well as opposing viewpoints, is a wonderful way to make things better for us all, but it can only be accomplished if we agree to maintain some semblance of civility.

Now, let’s shake hands and come out pickin’!

Posted:  8/5/2007

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