Monday, December 26, 2005

Politeness II

This post is dedicated to Jeremy.

So, I have had more of an opportunity to think of the notion of politeness. In the event I was following previously, Zhen Tong managed to extricate himself from his predicament.

And it caused me ...

And it caused me to think about what is really at the heart of politeness.

It is all to do with communication. For most of us communication means something to the effect:

  • I say/write/sing something.

  • You reply.

But what politeness reveals is that communication is much deeper and more profound than this. People begin to grasp this when they talk of "body language" the subtle cues we give off that telegraph what we're thinking.

Consider one of the great pitfalls of this medium; you the reader cannot perceive any intonation or subtlety of speech. How do you know, unless context reveals it, that my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek? Anyone who has sent an abundance of emails knows full well there are times when you may have typed something in a spirit of good fun, but it back-fired miserably, because the reader to whom you sent it took it rather literally.

This type of meta-communication enables us to add additional information to what we're trying to convey. Just as the laugh at the end of a snide comment can (sometimes) take the bite off, politeness adds an additional layer of information to ensure that the right, anticipated reaction is achieved.

In this case, Zhen Tong wanted to get into the meeting, save face, win renown for handling a situation, and convince others of his social and diplomatic acumen. He used the right tool, the meta-communication of politeness, to achieve his end, and it worked.

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