National Workshop on General Semantics

Reprinted with permission from: Centre for Contemporary Theory, Vadodara, Gujarat, India

BK Parekh  Workshop Participants

Prafulla Kar   Steve Stockdale   Andrea Johnson   Pramod Pandey

Twelfth National Workshop Cognitive Language Skills for the 21st Century
3rd – 5th November 2007

A Report

One of the dominant concerns of contemporary social and political theory and one which has engaged if not captured the attention of theorizing since the beginning of the Enlightenment is the idea of human progress. Human progress, which may be broadly understood as such movement and advance which render the world more just, ethical and meaningful in the general analysis of those who construct or inhabit it, has and continues to constitute the basis of much of modern thought. Philosophers as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, F G W Hegel, Giambattista Vico, August Comte, Max Weber and Herbert Spencer among others sought to ascertain and legitimize an essential relationship between the progress of mankind and the reason/rationality of the individual self. Through their different theoretical narratives such philosophers demonstrated how reason would further progress by purging the human world of conflict, violence and wars.

Any conceptual analysis of the idea of human progress today would however necessitate a comparative reading of the advancements we as humans have achieved in the scientific technical world with that which we have realized in our social and political worlds. It would compel us to ask why our rapid advances and progress in the sciences, engineering, medicine and technology have not been matched in relatively equal terms with advances in our social and moral world. Why has growth and development in the sciences been governed by instrumental reason while the social and political experiences and behavior continue to be characterized and guided by suspicion, bigotry and intolerance?

It is the imperative to pursue and attempt to respond to this question that remains the focus of Alfred Korzybski’s many works, notable among which are Manhood of Humanity (1921), Time-Binding: The General Theory (1924) and Science and Sanity (1933). According to Korzybski, it is possible as well as desirable to apply and make relevant the attitudes and methodologies that are responsible for the advances in the scientific world to the social and political world, and it is to study and work out such possibilities that he established the new interdisciplinary body of knowledge labeled “General Semantics” as well as the Institute of General Semantics in 1938 at Texas, USA. General Semantics may be understood as a broad system of evaluation and responsiveness. Since language provides the means through which such evaluation and responsiveness occurs, much of General Semantics deals with studying the relationship between language and behavior. It is concerned with the studying the manner and processes through which humans perceive, construct, evaluate and communicate their lived experiences in a way which minimizes violence and conflict. General Semantics as an interdisciplinary area of understanding is rather unfamiliar to Indian academic institutions. However its relevance for India may be difficult to undervalue particularly when we witness India’s economic and scientific development coupled with increasing instances of violence, cruelty and bigotry.

It is to underscore the relevance and imperative to study General Semantics that the Forum on Contemporary Theory organized its Twelfth National Workshop on Cognitive Language Skills for the 21st Century between 3rd and 5th November 2007 at the Center for Contemporary Theory, Vadodara. The Forum here must acknowledge the contribution, commitment and support it has received from Shri Balvantbhai Parekh, Chairman, Trivenikalyan Foundation. In addition to being an accomplished industrialist as well as a well meaning philanthropist Balvantbhai Parekh is the first and perhaps only member of the Institute of General Semantics in India. The Forum’s organization of this National Workshop was possible only through his unfailing initiative, encouragement and support, and we at the Forum express our deep sense of appreciation and gratitude to him.

The Workshop was conducted by three resource persons, namely Andrea Johnson, President of the Board of Trust of the Institute of General Semantics, Steve Stockdale, Executive Director of the Institute of General Semantics and Pramod Pandey, Professor of Linguistics at the Department of Language, Literature and Culture Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The participants comprised of research scholars and teachers from many different universities of the country pursuing such varied disciplines as English Literature and Language, Sociology, Linguistics, History, Political Science, Philosophy and Art History. The Workshop was also attended by a senior bureaucrat as well as a medical practitioner. The Workshop included course sessions, public lectures as well as participants’ presentations.

In her public lecture titled “Language-Attitude Behavior: Constructing Individual Realities” Andrea Johnson introduced some of the central arguments and assumptions of General Semantics, some of which are time-binding, uncertainty and et cetera. Using the analogy of a map and the territory she demonstrated how language can never certainly and comprehensively grasp or capture meaning in its entirety. Steve Stockdale in his public lecture titled “Some Basic Understanding and Justification of General Semantics” underscored the need to build bridges of understanding, which he asserted could be accomplished through the approach of General Semantics. He questioned the assumptions of certainty, conformity and conviction in the process of understanding as the basis of violence and intolerance. In a lecture titled “Is There a Western Way of Thinking?” Pramod Pandey brought out the interrelationship between modern and non-modern perspectives of language and knowledge. Employing the idea of Argumentative Reasoning, he vigorously demonstrated the differences and similarities between western and non-western paradigms of knowledge.

A central and commendable aspect of the Forum’s Workshops has been the participants informed involvement. In this Workshop the contribution and involvement of the participants was marked and meaningful. A number of participants proffered and presented rich and critical insights on the idea of General Semantics, which were truly appreciated and applauded by the resource persons. The Institute of General Semantics has committed to the publication of some of these presentations in its quarterly journal called ETC: A Review of General Semantics.

One of the many measures of a successful and substantively relevant academic meet is the promise of continuity and collaborative effort. To that extent, this Workshop organized by the Forum provided the occasion and opportunity for a meaningful and academically relevant relationship between the Forum on Contemporary Theory and the Institute of General Semantics. It also occasioned the strengthening and nurturing of our relationship with Shri Parekh, who was graciously present throughout the Workshop. With this Workshop, the Forum has contributed in a noteworthy way to the inauguration and introduction of the process of learning and understanding General Semantics in the country.

SS Note: Mr. Parekh and Prafulla Kar arranged for the first national teacher training workshop to be conducted at Mumbai University in May 2008. Click here for a short televised clip reported by the Doordarshan English national channel.

India – Think Before You Speak

DNA articleBy Prachi Rege
As printed in the 20 November 2007 edition of DNA (Daily News & Analysis), Mumbai edition.
Our assumptions could lead to major communication problems. Prachi Rege attends a seminar on General Semantics — a theory that makes us aware of our behaviour thereby setting a base for effective communication.

The daily experiences that you undergo do not or rather cannot include everything under the sun. It is because of this limitation in human beings that we tend to take situations in our life for granted. A recent seminar on General Semantics held at the SP Jain Institute of Management and Research tried to articulate this problem.

General Semantics is based on the premise that language does not exist apart from the human beings who create, use, and modify that language. Steve Stockdale, executive director, Institute of General Semantics, Fort Worth, Texas, who addressed the seminar, gave the example of taboo terms with reference to English songs. According to him every language has certain taboo terms. None of the 26 letters in English are obscene in themselves, but when Madonna composes her song where is the melody of the words lost?

However, General Semantics is different from Semantics, as the former deals with the behavioral aspect whereas the latter is concerned with the meaning in the words itself.

General Semantics is also a proper evaluation of language and the effects of language and is concerned with these aspects of human behavior. These include perception, construction, evaluation, and communication of our life experiences. Stockdale explains the process of human inference through a diagram. This begins with an acronym WIGO (what is going on) – this is the real world, next is our sensory perception, then the description, followed by our inference of our world. He illustrates this with a corporate example wherein an employee who comes late to work is signified as lazy by default. No one considers the extenuating circumstances that he/she might have faced.

So how does one apply general semantics? According to Stockdale, self-awareness is the best way to apply this methodology. This includes being aware of the situation one is involved in without coming to hasty conclusions. At the Institute it is part of the mass communication course. Here the students are taught to relate the principles of general semantics to their chosen professional fields like Journalism, Advertising, and Public Relations.

Absolutism in communication is another concept that general semantics attacks. How many times do you make the statement “the exact same situation happened four years ago?” asks Stockdale. He refers to the proverb “no two snowflakes are the same” and hence the absolutism must be dropped. According to him the word “best” is violated almost in every sentence, he sights examples of advertising slogans like “The Best Dressed Man,” “Best Holiday Destination,” etc. These slogans, Steve explains manipulates the communication.

Similarly he cites the example of politicians who use absolutism to communicate against their opponents or propagate certain ideas to fulfill their vested interests.

Stockdale reasons that we cannot live without assumptions, but the problem occurs when we start treating them as facts. So, one can follow general semantics by a systematic perception of life experiences rather than an obscure one.

Some Common Mistakes While Speaking

  • Confusing the word itself with what the word stands for.
  • Acting as if the meaning of the words used is contained solely in the word, without considering context or the individuals.
  • Confusing facts with our inferences, assumptions, beliefs, etc.
  • Not accounting for the many “shades of gray” and looking at things as black or white, right or wrong, good or bad.
  • Using language to ‘separate’ that which in the actual world cannot be separated, such as space from time, mind from body, thinking from feeling.

India – National Workshop on General Semantics

Gujurati news articleAs printed in the 6 November 2007 edition of DIVYA BHASKAR DAILY, Gujarat, India.

General Semantics is a topic somewhat unfamiliar to the common man, but it concerns something that plays a very significant role in our daily life. The twelfth National Workshop of the Forum for Contemporary Theory, titled “Cognitive Language Skills for Twenty First Century,” discussed extensively details of General Semantics.

Dr. Andrea Johnson, President of the Institute of General Semantics, U.S.A., and Dr Steven Stockdale, its Executive Director, conducted the workshop.

This distinguished National Workshop was planned and organized by Mr. Balvant K. Parekh, Chairman of the Pidilite Industries, India, and President of the Triveni Kalyan Foundation. Speaking to Divya Bhaskar, Mr Balvant Parekh said that he had first read about General Semantics, some twenty-five years back, in the journal, ETC: A Review of General Semantics. General Semantics, Mr. Balvant Parekh said, has been useful to him in every aspect of life, personal, social and professional. “In my professional work within my industry, I had noticed that my employees would, at times, understand what I had told them quite differently from what I intended to convey. General Semantics was useful at such times in solving problems of communication.”

Mr. Steven Stockdale, Executive Director of the Institute of General Semantics, told Divya Bhaskar that General Semantics is of key importance in our keeping away from the conflicts, which result from unfulfilled expectations of our subconscious arising out of multiple possibilities before it. General Semantics enables us to keep away from generalizations and to avoid evaluating situations through prejudices.”

Talking to Divya Bhaskar, Ms. Andrea Johnson, President, said, “General Semantics is not limited strictly to academic reading and information. Only when it is assimilated into life through meditative processes, could it be put into action. General Semantics enables us to avoid coming under undue influence of any single factor and to examine all the different aspects of a situation in order to reach a proper conclusion. People who can question themselves are more readily able to grasp this subject. They are then able to understand that language is a symbolic expression, not a final verdict.”

The 2007 India Trip Page

from the Centre for Contemporary Theory

Reprinted with permission from: Centre for Contemporary Theory, Vadodara, Gujarat, India

BK Parekh Workshop Participants

Prafulla Kar Steve Stockdale Andrea Johnson Pramod Pandey

Twelfth National Workshop Cognitive Language Skills for the 21st Century
3rd – 5th November 2007

A Report

One of the dominant concerns of contemporary social and political theory and one which has engaged if not captured the attention of theorizing since the beginning of the Enlightenment is the idea of human progress. Human progress, which may be broadly understood as such movement and advance which render the world more just, ethical and meaningful in the general analysis of those who construct or inhabit it, has and continues to constitute the basis of much of modern thought. Philosophers as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, F G W Hegel, Giambattista Vico, August Comte, Max Weber and Herbert Spencer among others sought to ascertain and legitimize an essential relationship between the progress of mankind and the reason/rationality of the individual self. Through their different theoretical narratives such philosophers demonstrated how reason would further progress by purging the human world of conflict, violence and wars.

Any conceptual analysis of the idea of human progress today would however necessitate a comparative reading of the advancements we as humans have achieved in the scientific technical world with that which we have realized in our social and political worlds. It would compel us to ask why our rapid advances and progress in the sciences, engineering, medicine and technology have not been matched in relatively equal terms with advances in our social and moral world. Why has growth and development in the sciences been governed by instrumental reason while the social and political experiences and behavior continue to be characterized and guided by suspicion, bigotry and intolerance?

It is the imperative to pursue and attempt to respond to this question that remains the focus of Alfred Korzybski’s many works, notable among which are Manhood of Humanity (1921), Time-Binding: The General Theory (1924) and Science and Sanity (1933). According to Korzybski, it is possible as well as desirable to apply and make relevant the attitudes and methodologies that are responsible for the advances in the scientific world to the social and political world, and it is to study and work out such possibilities that he established the new interdisciplinary body of knowledge labeled “General Semantics” as well as the Institute of General Semantics in 1938 at Texas, USA. General Semantics may be understood as a broad system of evaluation and responsiveness. Since language provides the means through which such evaluation and responsiveness occurs, much of General Semantics deals with studying the relationship between language and behavior. It is concerned with the studying the manner and processes through which humans perceive, construct, evaluate and communicate their lived experiences in a way which minimizes violence and conflict. General Semantics as an interdisciplinary area of understanding is rather unfamiliar to Indian academic institutions. However its relevance for India may be difficult to undervalue particularly when we witness India’s economic and scientific development coupled with increasing instances of violence, cruelty and bigotry.

It is to underscore the relevance and imperative to study General Semantics that the Forum on Contemporary Theory organized its Twelfth National Workshop on Cognitive Language Skills for the 21st Century between 3rd and 5th November 2007 at the Center for Contemporary Theory, Vadodara. The Forum here must acknowledge the contribution, commitment and support it has received from Shri Balvantbhai Parekh, Chairman, Trivenikalyan Foundation. In addition to being an accomplished industrialist as well as a well meaning philanthropist Balvantbhai Parekh is the first and perhaps only member of the Institute of General Semantics in India. The Forum’s organization of this National Workshop was possible only through his unfailing initiative, encouragement and support, and we at the Forum express our deep sense of appreciation and gratitude to him.

The Workshop was conducted by three resource persons, namely Andrea Johnson, President of the Board of Trust of the Institute of General Semantics, Steve Stockdale, Executive Director of the Institute of General Semantics and Pramod Pandey, Professor of Linguistics at the Department of Language, Literature and Culture Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The participants comprised of research scholars and teachers from many different universities of the country pursuing such varied disciplines as English Literature and Language, Sociology, Linguistics, History, Political Science, Philosophy and Art History. The Workshop was also attended by a senior bureaucrat as well as a medical practitioner. The Workshop included course sessions, public lectures as well as participants’ presentations.

In her public lecture titled “Language-Attitude Behavior: Constructing Individual Realities” Andrea Johnson introduced some of the central arguments and assumptions of General Semantics, some of which are time-binding, uncertainty and et cetera. Using the analogy of a map and the territory she demonstrated how language can never certainly and comprehensively grasp or capture meaning in its entirety. Steve Stockdale in his public lecture titled “Some Basic Understanding and Justification of General Semantics” underscored the need to build bridges of understanding, which he asserted could be accomplished through the approach of General Semantics. He questioned the assumptions of certainty, conformity and conviction in the process of understanding as the basis of violence and intolerance. In a lecture titled “Is There a Western Way of Thinking?” Pramod Pandey brought out the interrelationship between modern and non-modern perspectives of language and knowledge. Employing the idea of Argumentative Reasoning, he vigorously demonstrated the differences and similarities between western and non-western paradigms of knowledge.

A central and commendable aspect of the Forum’s Workshops has been the participants informed involvement. In this Workshop the contribution and involvement of the participants was marked and meaningful. A number of participants proffered and presented rich and critical insights on the idea of General Semantics, which were truly appreciated and applauded by the resource persons. The Institute of General Semantics has committed to the publication of some of these presentations in its quarterly journal called ETC: A Review of General Semantics.

One of the many measures of a successful and substantively relevant academic meet is the promise of continuity and collaborative effort. To that extent, this Workshop organized by the Forum provided the occasion and opportunity for a meaningful and academically relevant relationship between the Forum on Contemporary Theory and the Institute of General Semantics. It also occasioned the strengthening and nurturing of our relationship with Shri Parekh, who was graciously present throughout the Workshop. With this Workshop, the Forum has contributed in a noteworthy way to the inauguration and introduction of the process of learning and understanding General Semantics in the country.

SS Note: Mr. Parekh and Prafulla Kar arranged for the first national teacher training workshop to be conducted at Mumbai University in May 2008. Click here for a short televised clip reported by the Doordarshan English national channel.

Think Before You Speak

DNA articleBy Prachi Rege
As printed in the 20 November 2007 edition of DNA (Daily News & Analysis), Mumbai edition.
Our assumptions could lead to major communication problems. Prachi Rege attends a seminar on General Semantics — a theory that makes us aware of our behaviour thereby setting a base for effective communication.

The daily experiences that you undergo do not or rather cannot include everything under the sun. It is because of this limitation in human beings that we tend to take situations in our life for granted. A recent seminar on General Semantics held at the SP Jain Institute of Management and Research tried to articulate this problem.

General Semantics is based on the premise that language does not exist apart from the human beings who create, use, and modify that language. Steve Stockdale, executive director, Institute of General Semantics, Fort Worth, Texas, who addressed the seminar, gave the example of taboo terms with reference to English songs. According to him every language has certain taboo terms. None of the 26 letters in English are obscene in themselves, but when Madonna composes her song where is the melody of the words lost?

However, General Semantics is different from Semantics, as the former deals with the behavioral aspect whereas the latter is concerned with the meaning in the words itself.

General Semantics is also a proper evaluation of language and the effects of language and is concerned with these aspects of human behavior. These include perception, construction, evaluation, and communication of our life experiences. Stockdale explains the process of human inference through a diagram. This begins with an acronym WIGO (what is going on) – this is the real world, next is our sensory perception, then the description, followed by our inference of our world. He illustrates this with a corporate example wherein an employee who comes late to work is signified as lazy by default. No one considers the extenuating circumstances that he/she might have faced.

So how does one apply general semantics? According to Stockdale, self-awareness is the best way to apply this methodology. This includes being aware of the situation one is involved in without coming to hasty conclusions. At the Institute it is part of the mass communication course. Here the students are taught to relate the principles of general semantics to their chosen professional fields like Journalism, Advertising, and Public Relations.

Absolutism in communication is another concept that general semantics attacks. How many times do you make the statement “the exact same situation happened four years ago?” asks Stockdale. He refers to the proverb “no two snowflakes are the same” and hence the absolutism must be dropped. According to him the word “best” is violated almost in every sentence, he sights examples of advertising slogans like “The Best Dressed Man,” “Best Holiday Destination,” etc. These slogans, Steve explains manipulates the communication.

Similarly he cites the example of politicians who use absolutism to communicate against their opponents or propagate certain ideas to fulfill their vested interests.

Stockdale reasons that we cannot live without assumptions, but the problem occurs when we start treating them as facts. So, one can follow general semantics by a systematic perception of life experiences rather than an obscure one.

Some Common Mistakes While Speaking

  • Confusing the word itself with what the word stands for.
  • Acting as if the meaning of the words used is contained solely in the word, without considering context or the individuals.
  • Confusing facts with our inferences, assumptions, beliefs, etc.
  • Not accounting for the many “shades of gray” and looking at things as black or white, right or wrong, good or bad.
  • Using language to ‘separate’ that which in the actual world cannot be separated, such as space from time, mind from body, thinking from feeling.

National Workshop on General Semantics

Gujurati news articleAs printed in the 6 November 2007 edition of DIVYA BHASKAR DAILY, Gujarat, India.

General Semantics is a topic somewhat unfamiliar to the common man, but it concerns something that plays a very significant role in our daily life. The twelfth National Workshop of the Forum for Contemporary Theory, titled “Cognitive Language Skills for Twenty First Century,” discussed extensively details of General Semantics.

Dr. Andrea Johnson, President of the Institute of General Semantics, U.S.A., and Dr Steven Stockdale, its Executive Director, conducted the workshop.

This distinguished National Workshop was planned and organized by Mr. Balvant K. Parekh, Chairman of the Pidilite Industries, India, and President of the Triveni Kalyan Foundation. Speaking to Divya Bhaskar, Mr Balvant Parekh said that he had first read about General Semantics, some twenty-five years back, in the journal, ETC: A Review of General Semantics. General Semantics, Mr. Balvant Parekh said, has been useful to him in every aspect of life, personal, social and professional. “In my professional work within my industry, I had noticed that my employees would, at times, understand what I had told them quite differently from what I intended to convey. General Semantics was useful at such times in solving problems of communication.”

Mr. Steven Stockdale, Executive Director of the Institute of General Semantics, told Divya Bhaskar that General Semantics is of key importance in our keeping away from the conflicts, which result from unfulfilled expectations of our subconscious arising out of multiple possibilities before it. General Semantics enables us to keep away from generalizations and to avoid evaluating situations through prejudices.”

Talking to Divya Bhaskar, Ms. Andrea Johnson, President, said, “General Semantics is not limited strictly to academic reading and information. Only when it is assimilated into life through meditative processes, could it be put into action. General Semantics enables us to avoid coming under undue influence of any single factor and to examine all the different aspects of a situation in order to reach a proper conclusion. People who can question themselves are more readily able to grasp this subject. They are then able to understand that language is a symbolic expression, not a final verdict.”

He takes little at face value

About Steve Stockdale (Reprinted with permission of the author, DIANA KUNDE)

Sun, Nov. 5, 2005

Special to the Dallas Morning News

FORT WORTH—What do you answer when your toddler asks, “What’s this?” What’s likely to follow when a politician begins a sentence with: “The fact of the matter is … ?”

And what do these questions have to do with one another?

Welcome to the world of Steve Stockdale, executive director of the Institute of General Semantics. Mr. Stockdale, 52, became interested in general semantics in graduate school at Texas Christian University after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy. After a career in defense electronics with Texas Instruments Inc., he was researching new directions when he began volunteer work for the institute.

Click for Full ImageThe institute was formed by the merger of two long-established semantics groups – one in California, one in New York – in 2004. Mr. Stockdale became its director, steering the nonprofit through its relocation to temporary quarters in Fort Worth. Last fall, it moved into a renovated 1932-era grocery store in the city’s historic Southside neighborhood.

It’s his mission, he says during an interview at the institute, to raise the profile of this relatively little-known field of study.

For instance, he’s teaching a course at TCU and working with advanced-placement English teachers from the Birdville school district.

What is general semantics? “You can think of it as the study of how we perceive, construct, evaluate and then communicate our life experiences,” he says.

General semantics is obviously very important to you. Why is that, and why should it be important to the rest of us?

The real kernel that got me hooked is that, when you think about it, language is the only means that we have to resolve problems between people. So it’s really important that people have an understanding of not just the language but the mechanism of how it all works. What are the pitfalls and the limitations of it?

We’re being bombarded by political advertising in this fall’s campaigns. What should we be on guard against?

Part of general semantics deals with trying to make clearer distinctions between what’s fact and what’s opinion or inference. What you’ll hear politicians say inevitably is, “The fact of the matter is.” … You can pretty well tell that anytime someone prefaces a remark by “the fact of the matter is,” what’s going to follow is a firmly held conviction or opinion. It’s probably not going to be a fact. So one thing I would say is be diligent in setting high criteria for what constitutes fact.

An example: Before the buildup to the war in Iraq, people would have said it was a fact that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. They would have said that because that’s what they heard. Now, there are very few people in the world who actually had the information available to say whether or not it was a fact. Everyone else was hearing reports of what somebody else said was a fact. But the government acted as if it were a fact. If they’d said, “We’re 98 percent sure … ” there probably wouldn’t have been the support that there was in 2003.

How do we teach young people to be critical consumers of information?

To teach it, you have to know it. So, ultimately, it’s parents and teachers in elementary schools who need to understand some of these basic principles. Something as simple as this: Kids, as soon as they learn to talk, will ask, “What’s this? What’s that?” Don’t answer, “It’s a table,” but, “We call it a table.”

It seems to me that opens up several different ways to qualify this. For one, if you’re growing up in Germany, they call it a tisch. … It brings in the notion that different cultures have different languages. The other thing it opens up is we call it a table, but it could be used as a seat. So, it disassociates, ever so slightly, the thing from the word we attach to it. The earlier you start, the easier it is.

You once taught a course you called “Lucid Dating.” How did you apply general semantics to that?

A lot of exercises we did are right out of what I do in general semantics seminars. I have a thing called an orientation survey. It’s a list of 20 statements that you might call clichés, aphorisms or conventional wisdom. And then I ask people to rank their agreement with them on a scale. Things like: “Everything happens for a reason,” “There are no accidents,” “You’re either for us or against us.”

We have the same kind of attitudes in the dating world. People will buy into this thing: “Everybody’s got a soul mate,” for instance. Well, just one?

You brought the organization here to Fort Worth’s Southside neighborhood, which has some family history for you. What does that feel like, to be on the same street where your great-grandparents lived?

I remember, when I was 5, we spent one Christmas here at my great-grandparents’ house. I have a memory of that Christmas. It would be neat if I could say, “Oh this is just like coming home because I remember the trees and the street.” But I don’t. I think it’s more this neat thing of not knowing how your life will end up and kind of the wonder of it all.

Visit the Institute of General Semantics online at generalsemantics.org.

Diana Kunde is an Arlington freelance writer. E-mail dikunde@sbcglobal.net

© 2006 Diana Kunde. Reprinted with the permission of the author. Photo by Mei-Chun Jau, Staff Photographer.

Avoiding dating disasters

 

(Reprinted with permission of the Dallas Morning News)

Monday, December 29, 2003

By ALINE McKENZIE / The Dallas Morning News

Expert advises altering expectations as people seek new relationships

As a divorcé, Steve Stockdale has a lot of experience with midlife dating.

But he’s also a student of how humans use language to interact with the world.

He has combined the two to come up with what he calls “lucid dating” – “dating from an intelligent,
self-aware and enlightened perspective.”

“When we have a first date with someone, whether we’re aware of it or not, we have expectations about how they should look, behave and the kinds of questions they should ask,” he says.

The trick is to be aware of what your expectations are and decide whether they’re holding you back from meeting interesting people.

For instance, he says, many people in online dating services lie about their age (namely women) or their height (namely men), simply because they know they’ll get red-lined by potential dates if they tell the truth.

“They look at the whole online thing as getting an interview, getting into the door, then my natural charisma will take over,” he says.

Mr. Stockdale, 49, is founder of the Dallas-Fort Worth Center for General Semantics in Fort Worth. He also teaches an informal class in lucid dating for adults at Southern Methodist University.

General semantics is a field that examines how language affects the way people interact with the world and the assumptions that they make about the situations around them, based on their view of the world.

“All these aspects of our background come into play whenever we go into a new environment or new event,” he says.

To use a dating example, someone may unsuccessfully date a lawyer and decide never to date a lawyer again.

“Don’t let yourself fall into this easy mode of generalizing,” he warns.

“I haven’t dated since I was in my mid-20s,” says Laurie Ellis, 48, a recently divorced interior decorator from Cedar Hill. “It’s like learning how to do something new.

“I would like to find several people to go to dinner with; if I’ve got theater tickets, someone to go with me, man or woman.”

Glenn Harding, 54, a sales consultant from Dallas, says: “It really boils down to the fact that we’ve never been taught how to connect to each other.”

He was thinking of writing a book called Near-Date Experiences when he realized that most of the stories he heard from other people were more sad than funny.

Lesson from experience

Mr. Stockdale was divorced from his high school sweetheart in 1993 and went through much soul-searching and therapy before coming up with lucid dating. “I thought, ‘Gee, I wish I’d known some of this stuff earlier because I could have taken some pre-emptive action, that I wouldn’t be so confused … that I’d need to see a therapist,’ ” he says.

His therapist pointed out that if he wanted to meet women, he had to expand his horizons beyond his car, apartment and workplace.

Part of lucid dating is examining your expectations and realizing that they’re somewhat arbitrary, Mr. Stockdale says. Strict criteria about age, height, looks, income, etc., may exclude people that you might otherwise find appealing.

“How many of you women are going to say ‘no, thanks’ to Mel Gibson because he’s over 42, or ‘no way!’ to Tom Cruise because he’s under 5-feet-10?” he says on his Web site, Thisisnotthat.com.

He also recommends that people try something that they normally might not do to meet people – within the bounds of safety, of course. Going to a bar or trying an online dating service can give people a fresh perspective.

“You’d be surprised about what some people carry inhibitions about,” he says.

Many women, for instance, are appalled at the idea of eating out on their own, even on business trips.

“They’d rather go get a root canal before they appeared out in public by themselves, eating,” he says.

“We need to learn not to ‘should’ ourselves. We don’t do things we’d like to because we worry about how we’d be perceived.”

Keep it simple

Once you’ve got a date, he advises, simply be honest and try not to expect too much. “I’d urge people not to look at it as an interview,” he says. “As much as possible, try to enjoy the moment. Say, ‘I want to enjoy this next hour,’ and worry about what happens afterwards, afterwards.”

And hiding your normal personality isn’t a good idea either. For instance, someone who laughs loudly and is trying to suppress it is less likely to have a good time.

“You’re not giving a true reflection of yourself to the other person, and you’re probably not going to enjoy the evening, because you’re spending a lot of energy suppressing that,” he says.

Mr. Stockdale says he once talked to a woman who gradually revealed she had lied about her age, she’d actually been divorced twice instead of once, and she’d lied about the age of her daughter.

“Why even tell these stories, these lies?” he says.

TO LEARN MORE

Steve Stockdale will be leading two four-session Lucid Dating courses at SMU. The first session runs on Tuesdays, Jan. 27 to Feb. 17. The second will run on Thursdays, April 1-22. Each course is $59.

All sessions will be from 7:30 to 9 p.m. and will include at least one out-of-classroom get-together.

For more information, visit www.smu.edu/continuing_education and click on “Health and Wellness.”

Brimming with knowledge

About Steve StockdaleFrom the July 18, 2003 print edition of the Dallas Business Journal.

Mike Whiteley Tarrant/Denton editor

When 16-year-old honors student Taylor Hess got expelled for carrying a bread knife onto the campus of L.D. Bell High School in the bed of his pickup, school officials drew more than the ire of stunned students and parents in Hurst-Euless-Bedford.

Cleared by the district after disclosure the knife had fallen from a box he was hauling to Goodwill Industries, Hess also became the latest poster boy for a 65-year-old, low-profile enclave for some of the world’s greatest scientists and wordsmiths.

Now the Institute of General Semantics is moving to Fort Worth.

DBJ articleSteve Stockdale, a former business operations manager for Texas Instruments Defense Systems and Electronics Group, says the Hess case is a perfect example of what drove Polish-American author Alfred Korzybski to found the group in 1938.

“It brings to people’s attention what’s happening and how it’s being represented,” Stockdale said. “Are we responding to symbols more than to the specifics of what actually happened? Instead of dealing with an accident — a knife falling out of a moving box — it becomes an issue of the threatening of a school campus.”

Despite the district’s policy of zero tolerance, the district’s superintendent ruled that the 10-inch knife with a nonserrated edge posed no threat to the school. Hess’ expulsion was reduced to five days suspension.

Founded on the principal that the language of science is more precise — and less prone to misunderstanding and chaos — than everyday communication, the nonprofit has attracted as trustees, teachers and students the likes of Buckminster Fuller, a world-famous architect who conceived the geodesic dome; comedian and former talk show host Steve Allen; botanist David Fairchild, the son-in-law of Alexander Graham Bell; science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein; and Dave Garroway, an original host on NBC Today.

Stockdale established the institute’s archive — 2,000 books and 50 filing cabinets of correspondence, articles and administrative files — and a museum at a small center at 1412 Texas St. in Fort Worth two years ago.

It was the ambiance of Fort Worth — not the verbal showdown at Bell high school — that triggered a wholesale move of the institute’s Brooklyn, N.Y., headquarters in conjunction with a merger of the California-based International Society for General Semantics.

When the Brooklyn institute’s eight trustees converged on Cowtown for a quarterly meeting June 21, one compared Fort Worth to the Montreal of 30 years ago and began engineering a move.

Stockdale was promoted from part-time archivist and librarian to the institute’s full-time director and plans to launch a fund-raising drive in the next three months. He hopes to establish the institute in a 4,000-square-foot building sometime within the next six to eight months.

Stockdale is scouting the Metroplex with some emphasis on proximity to the Fort Worth Cultural District.

The institute also will relocate seminars now held in more expensive hotels in New York and New Jersey, Stockdale said.

Contact DBJ Tarrant/Denton editor Michael Whiteley at mwhiteley@bizjournals.com or (817) 693-0023.

© 2003 American City Business Journals Inc.

It’s a study of our lives (in so many words)

(Reprinted with permission of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Posted on Tue, Aug. 13, 2002
By PAUL BOURGEOIS
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Click to enlarge

FORT WORTH – Our language affects our behavior, and our behavior affects our language.

That is the very basic idea behind the Center for General Semantics, a new resource in downtown Fort Worth.

The center includes the library and archives of the Institute for General Semantics, a 60-year-old organization based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Semantics is the science of how and why words mean what they do, and general semantics goes a step further, said Steve Stockdale, 48, director of the center at 1214 Texas St.

It’s a discipline that includes not just language, but philosophy, psychology, science and mathematics. It was conceived by Alfred Korzybski, a Polish-American author, logician and scientist who lived from 1879 to 1950.

“How we use language determines the way we evaluate our relationship with ourselves, others and our world. Many human problems can be traced to our ignorance of the ways we use language and the ways language influence us,” Korzybski said.

The idea is that through greater awareness and introspection, people can better integrate their outer world with their inner world. Simply put, general semantics promotes rational and crucial thinking skills in daily life.

Proponents say general semantics offers a methodology for one to see and experience the world through “new eyes.”

As Korzybski put it: “A person does what he does because he sees the world as he sees it. A person tends to see the world as conforming to the words he has been taught to use about it.”What might appear a trifle New Age flaky is really common-sensical, said Stockdale, an engineering graduate of the Air Force Academy.

Stockdale said life issues become clearer and more manageable with a better understanding of the assumptions we bring to a situation, a willingness to make accurate observations and a willingness to continuously test, examine, evaluate and change our assumptions and behavior based on our observations.

Stockdale said general semantics had a large and growing following in the late 1930s and into the 1950s. It was taught at major universities, but interest has waned in recent years.

Korzybski’s early students included author-linguist-politician S.I. Hayakawa and Buckminster Fuller, an architect-engineer who invented the geodesic dome.

The library and archive includes more than 2,000 books on science, math, psychology and language; the letters of Korzybski; photographs; and complete sets of Etcetera, a quarterly magazine on general semantics started by Hayakawa in 1943.

The archives had been in storage in New Jersey for nearly 20 years before the Texas-born Stockdale talked the institute into a move to Fort Worth.

The goal, he said, is to be more than just a resource for interested researchers.

“Our mission is to provide training and workshops to help people understand general semantics and to apply it in their lives,” he said.

© 2001 startelegram and wire service sources.
All Rights Reserved. http://www.star-telegram.com