Communication Model

The limits of my language are the limits of my world.


One often makes a remark and only later sees how true it is.


No model irks me more than the communication model. I believe that this is largely due to being a writer. My mind and creative soul craves language. Language in all forms. Language without conformity, without editing, without pedantic understandings of which words go where. That one needs a script to be honest goes against all logic on how honesty functions. The meaning is not in the dictionary definition of the words but how I choose to use them.

Wittgenstein argued that language is not expression of our inner world but our inner world itself.

If we follow Wittgenstein’s logic, then to criticize one’s language is to criticize their world. Furthermore, to shrink the available words and structure, we are shrinking our worlds. The communication model misses the very purpose of language. Everything is broken down into:

I feel x

I think y

I intend z

This is an insult to the English language. I couldn’t write fiction when everyone I knew spoke using the exact same phrases. Of course, it is also only natural that popular phrases begin to mean something else entirely. This isn’t a criticism but a further point of how language functions–words evolve. Language is expression just as much (if not more) than clarity. I would give up clarity to live in a world where I am surrounded by rich language.

All metaphor is lost when we rely on the communication model. We cannot know what we mean until we see what we say. In the communication model this is halted because one must first decide on the meaning before speaking. This is not meaning at all but conformity. This is why psychoanalysis often operates by blurting out the first thing that comes, no matter how illogical. This is our way to truth. This is also how writing operates. When I put my pen to the page, I have no idea what the truth of my character is. I only learn that upon reading what I have written. Thus, all truth is lost in the communication model. It treats language as a fixed object rather than as an art and the route to meaning. It places meaning in boxes.

Does it matter that “I feel that it will rain” is not correct? Poetry would not exist if we confined ourselves and our meanings into little boxes. Poets need to live in a world rich in language to exist. Rich in all forms of language, not just abstractions. Indeed, in anything but abstractions! Abstractions also cannot exist or not exist so to treat them as boxes–eg, this is a feeling and a feeling only, this is a thought, etc–misses the point entirely.

There is a certain loss of sense of self that occurs when language is taken away from an individual. I often chose not to speak rather than to have my words analyzed and picked apart. One cannot analyze life and live life simultaneously. Everything at The Haven is analyzed and there are clear hierarchies on whose analysis is to be given weight.

There has also been some fairly interesting work in social psychology looking at how analysis can weaken understanding.

Part of why I felt so small was because I was living in a small world. Placing limits on language and conforming to particular structures was part of this.

The communication model falls in nicely with the hero journey. It is masculine, rule-based and confining. The art world is the virgin journey with expression at its core.

Instead of looking at these as equally valid ways of approaching language, The Haven advertises its own as being the true route to authenticity. There is a concerning sense of superiority. Some of my most dishonest relationships have been with Haven faculty and some of my most honest relationships with those who have never heard of The Haven. Harvard doesn’t need to catch up to Haven, Haven needs to catch up to the rest of the world.

The most honest people I know are artists who let whatever’s inside them spill out without any concern for rules. The job of the poet is to break language rules. Unfortunately, I couldn’t truly embrace this until I left The Haven. My ear ached for language of all kinds.

Furthermore, if The Haven was as interested in all voices, experiences and emotions as they claim, the poetry read would be more than Mark Nepo, Ellery Littleton, David Whyte and Mary Oliver. We would jump into the depths of darkness with Plath, amongst others. We would dive into sorrow, humour, longing, stupidity, fear… And hearing this would give us permission to have our own voice. Voice cannot exist in the communication model, it serves as a form of erasure.

The Haven is quite critical of the mental health system for relying on labels, and yet it seems so fond of labels itself. The words used in the communication model are all labels. A thought can only mean one thing, as well as a feeling, and you follow the formula. But more questionable is the role of ‘personality styles’. I have gone through few conversations on Haven ideas without someone pointing out my personality. To call it a style rather than a disorder is only a game of semantics (the mental health system uses the same exact terms). Every time I have tried to speak or indeed, do much of anything at all, I have been classified as a narcissist or a borderline personality. I have been told that calling myself a writer is wanting to be special. I have been told the same about calling myself an addict. I have been told which labels are good and which are bad, never getting to decide for myself. Sometimes it seemed I couldn’t think without being dissected–and learned to dissect myself.

This constant analysis does not, in my opinion, bring people closer to each other or to understanding. Most people cannot enjoy a sunset while simultaneously analyzing the physical properties of the light. There is a place for both, but The Haven seems to be focused entirely on analysis without experience. Witnesses to a crime are less able to accurately recall events if they are first asked to analyze or describe what happened. The same is true of recollection of faces, food, and other experiences that exist on a sensory or emotional level. Furthermore, there is a bond that is created when you know someone well enough that some things do not need to be said. This is destroyed in a scripted version where truth is traded in for accuracy.

Is that a thought or a feeling? It is both. It is everything in one. And you don’t need to be an artist to appreciate language in all of its messiness, its lack of conformity to scripts, and the sense of personhood it offers.  If you want to tell me how to build a fire: follow the rules, use a script. If you want to tell me how it feels to be warm in winter, the smell of the fire, the sound of chopping wood: please, break all the rules. That is how I will find you. That was how I found myself.

Criticism of any Haven teaching was always treated with dismay. I am always looking up new philosophers and psychologists and am frequently changing my mind on various topics. The Haven sticks to only those models they created themselves, and this leads to a certain degree of conformity, dogma and lack of critical thinking. Questioning often leads to more condescension. For instance, I pointed out that their theory on sexuality was inconsistent with how monogamy persists. Instead of exploring other theories that could account for this, and account for evolutionary reasons to have emotional bonds with partners (to have a father who looks after his offspring is an evolutionary advantage, not to mention that many non-human animals also engage in monogamy), I was merely told that I would learn, a condescending message that became quite normal.

Another concern is with the lesson that compromise is a bad thing (mentioned by Ben and Jock). This distaste of compromise is why the American political system is so polarized and dysfunctional.  Furthermore, cultures which believe in compromise tend to be happier. It is in our genes to compromise because it strengthens communities; it is our capitalist system that has moved away from this tendency–at high cost.

The Haven prefers to talk about how caring they are. True caring is compromise without discussion of the moral virtues involved. True caring is just doing it anyway. Power imbalances rely on a lack of compromise, and always serve to keep the heroes on top.

The general view of human nature seemed quite dark. Power, conflict, sexual charge and manipulation seemed to be the basis of every model. We were also told that babies only cry as a form of manipulation. This is simply not true, for manipulation requires the cognitive ability of theory of mind that does not develop until age 3. The desire to shock, and the lack of humanity in the ideas grew an inward thorn in me.

Sometimes babies are just crying and people really are just connecting, even if they aren’t full of insults and aren’t unloading every fleeting judgment.

I learned to trust my own critical thinking and insight. I did learn. Just not what they thought I might.