Meet the BlaBlas – #byebyeblablaland
After some weeks of travels watching how today’s global youth take action, speak up and fight for their right to create a better world, it is now time to follow up my last article “What Leaders & CEOs Can Learn from Philosophy”. The majority of feedback shows a curiosity for #byebyeblablaland. So, in this four-part series of “Leaving BlaBlaLand”, we take a closer look at the foundations of BlaBla, dig up the root causes and find means to fight them. There is too much bullshit in business, too much BlaBla. We spend the majority of our days in a land of Bla – wasting words, brain cells, time and money. In the business world, and also in life in general, where we need agility, adaptability and creativity, continuous learning and asking the right questions will help keep up with competition and the progress in exponential technologies, but by taking a structured and conscious approach only, can we leave the BlaBlaLand.
This first piece takes a closer look at the general nature of BlaBla. The jungle of hollow words, over-sharing, and endless talk.
Meet The Blablas
Speech is an essential feature of our lives as social beings, the spoken word is actually what makes us superior to other species. Whenever we come together, we talk. Chatter brings us together, stories connect us. But today we spent too much time in talking mode without ever listening or reflecting. We have become distracted by compulsive talking and our addiction has brought forth a society of BlaBla.
We use talk for self-soothing as much as for self-representation and self-evaluation, or as flashing lights distracting from underlying issues. Once we begin to speak we don’t know when or how to stop. Of course, not all our words are waste and communication is as vital as ever. But we need to make more efficient use of it again. By defining three fundamental types of BlaBla, we take the first step towards this necessary (self)improvement.
1. Me, Myself And I
Like with the seagulls in Pixar’s Finding Nemo (remember their chant of “Mine. Mine. Mine”?), most of our talk is self-centered. Three-fifths of what we say is concerned with the topic of “I”. After all, in our individual-focused society and with you as the world leading expert on the subject, no topic is easier to come by. In online communication, it’s even worse: 80% of what we type out is self-focused. Today everyone is a public person and an influencer. But when everyone is up on stage, who are the ones listening? Who are we actually talking to? Why and about what?
A quick experiment, before you read on: Right now, check any text conversation on your phone and look at your last three responses (whole sentences, no emojis). How many first-person pronouns do you count? How many sentences start with one? BTW: “we” includes you, so you’re still talking about yourself.
The ego-focus is to equal measures caused and furthered by the fact that we no longer know when to stop and hand over the conversation to others. When we don’t think of or know how to get others involved, we keep on rambling.
An awkward monologue, at any rate, seems better than awkward silence. Experiments actually show: people are willing to spend money for the opportunity to talk, finally. And their topic? Themselves. – We will cover this in part 4 “The Question is the Question – How to question everything”
2. The Doxa
When we do talk about more general topics, like in a discussion, while presenting a topic, or a regular conversation with our peers, our talk is too often informed by doxa. In ancient Greek, “doxa” describes an opinion, a judgment based on personal believes, or any sort of generalization. Endoxa, as Aristotle states, are opinions shared by the general public. Stereotypes are examples of doxai, as are statements based on “everyone”, “always”, “never”, “all of…”. You know, like “We do it like this, because that’s how it’s always been done,” and “Everyone has one. So I need one.” The latter is a very obvious example of the ill logic often glazed over in doxa statements: If it were true that everyone had one, e.g. fidget spinner, than the speaker, e.g. your kid, would be included in the total and therefore wouldn’t need one. However, the more experience we have with these type of statements and the more we reflect on our own stereotypes, the more easily we spot Doxa.
By itself, doxa isn’t a bad thing. Quite often it makes life easier. We can’t fact-check everything; mostly, we don’t care for it and that’s ok. When it comes to making decisions, however, relying on doxa is dangerous. Imagine what would happen when a court ruling or the details of a business contract or the outcome of an election were dependent on public (“everyone’s”) opinion alone.
To make an informed decision on such concerns, we take – or should take – a closer look at our own opinions, all our data at hand and, if necessary, additional information. By critical examination of various doxa, then, we may find underlying truths behind the assertion. Now an untested established opinion becomes credited. Finally, one can deliver an opinion from its doxa status by giving a coherent argument that proves the statement. Plato calls such reasonably justified opinion “episteme”, or knowledge.
In our fatal information society, however, knowledge becomes a rarity. When the top three results on a Google search are taken as the top source, all our information is bubble-filtered, and cries of “alternative facts” and “fake news” spread like wildfire – then too much of our talk is based on doxa, not on knowledge. Not only is this doxa-talk dangerous; it wastes time we could spend on getting to the bottom of things. Therefore, and more than ever: Think before you speak – or, for that matter, type.
A similar understanding of a certain kind of speech content is reflected in Martin Heidegger’s term of the “Gerede” (the chatter).
3. One More Chatter…
For the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), Gerede, or chatter, is a type of speech that comes to us quite naturally. Chatter is the result of our existence within a world of cultural practices: we meet and have superficial conversations about just any sort of topic. Gerede is not simply small talk, however. It is, you might say, that sort of generalizing talk out of habit, whenever we say that something “has always been done this way” or that “everyone” agrees on an issue. As with chatter in a general sense, the content of Gerede is easily picked up and passed on. Which is why it gives us the false belief that we have understood a topic, even though we have effectively cut it off the roots of deeper meaning. There is too much bullshit in the likes of ego-laden self-representations and pep-talks, statements based on opinions rather than knowledgeable remarks and analysis, and habitual conversational settings and contents, that seem to be part of a certain tradition. In the business world, we experience these 3 BlaBlas on a daily basis. Improving your own talk an be trained. Try becoming aware / Conscious about it. Make a note. Write it on your desk, computer, fridge… etc… just type down: 1) ME-ME-ME 2) DOXA 3) DAS GEREDE and every day you will be reminded of these 3 pitfalls in daily talks, making you more aware and conscious. This the first step.
Many of us are well acquainted with evidence of this BlaBla. One setting especially serves as its breeding ground: the meeting. – In the second part of this series, this is where we go, on our journey leaving BlaBlaLand.