Living Extensionally Takes a Lifetime


Module 1 Pages

Review and Reflection | Converging Competencies | Culture and the Individual |
Suspended in Stereotypes | Living Extensionally | Course Conclusion
Assignments, Discussions and Quizzes | References and Resources


Authored by Mary Lahman

Beginners often take upon themselves the task of enthusiastically spreading their new-found “wisdom” to family and friends. We suggest that, for best long-term results, you temper this response. —Susan & Bruce Kodish (2011, p. 200)

Awareness and ActionAt the end of a Language and Thought course, we often conclude that everyone needs to learn about general semantics. Once we recognize the allness language in that statement, we discuss ways to continue the “course-generated enthusiasm” for a general semantics approach to language behavior. Fully convinced of our time-binding responsibilities, we wonder how to best teach others about the patterns of miscommunication.

One semester, I shared these discussions with Professor Keller, who proposed that we worry less about “teaching others” and more about “modeling the correctives.” I often saw him follow this advice when participating in and facilitating community group discussions. Beginning his interactions with the simple phrase, “I wonder if,” he modeled how to question and paraphrase. He often used the “how much,” “which,” and “when” indexes, seeking information from the territory (people and contexts) and then updating his map (language and perceptions).

After helping to edit this text, my son wondered how I could have known about the pitfalls of language for so long and still exhibit patterns of miscommunication. I explained to him, as Meiers (1952) convinced participants at The First Conference in General Semantics in 1951, that living extensionally is “a lifetime process” (p. 277). More telling is how Meiers warned newcomers of the dangers of becoming general semantics fanatics. I share Meiers’s concern, so offer several of these warnings as well:

  1. Beware of accepting the disciplines of general semantics as a panacea . . . speaking of it with such “allness” of enthusiasm that it sounds like a panacea.
  2. Beware of using trade jargon—that is the particular terminology of general semantics—in conversation with those who are unfamiliar with the terms.
  3. Beware of the “wiser-than-thou” attitude of applying classification labels to conversational remarks of other people . . . students usually find great pleasure in their ability to recognize higher and lower abstractions in language—especially in the language of others. To make matters worse, they sometimes act as if the higher abstractions and inferences and judgments are less worthy of their consideration than descriptive statements.
  4. Beware of exaggerating the use of the semantic devices to the extent of appearing ridiculous. These five little devices suggested by Korzybski—quotes, dating [when index], indexing, hyphens, and the etc.—are practiced inconspicuously in the everyday language of thousands of people who make no overt reference to general semantics.
  5. Beware of merely talking about general semantics without applying its principles in practice. The highly verbal individual who finds in general semantics a new and exciting philosophy is in danger of keeping it forever on the verbal level, thus increasing the very futility that its discipline hopes to correct. (pp. 275–277).

Each of these dangers resonates with those who believe that they can communicate more effectively if they keep applying general semantics formulations. People may find themselves guilty of each of these behaviors as they diligently pursue eliminating patterns of miscommunication.

In the pursuit of excellence, we may forget, that we are “acquiring an orientation, not a straitjacket” (Kodish & Kodish, 2011, p. 200). Just because we are raising our awareness of our nervous systems’ limitations, we cannot assume that others will be as willing to learn about abstraction and the resulting “misevaluations” found in language behavior.

Ultimately, we would be wise to heed the advice about “minimum expectations” offered by Kodish and Kodish (2011): “When we have minimum expectations about any situation, that is, we’re prepared for not finding what we want, we will more likely find the ‘facts’ of the situation better than we expected; we’ve prepared ourselves for curiosity, change, excitement, happiness, hope, sanity, etc.” (p. 199). Perhaps just aiming for humor in the way that we misuse language will help us to continue the extensional journey.

After all, we have a lifetime to do so . . .


Module 1 Pages

Review and Reflection | Converging Competencies | Culture and the Individual |
Suspended in Stereotypes | Living Extensionally | Course Conclusion
Assignments, Discussions and Quizzes | References and Resources