Friday, February 5, 2010

February 5: Visual, Auditory, & Kinesthetic Perspective

Today's columnist is Christopher Sean Morrison from BRL-CAD. He writes:

I'm an open source software developer at heart, through and through. Like many of you, it's my passion, my love, my dedication. Day and night, I write code for BZFlag, BRL-CAD, and numerous other open source projects because I simply love working with code, molding it into doing my bidding, solving problems, working with others, and generally making things "better" (whatever that happens to mean). Working on open source projects just feels great to me.

Around the world, thousands of other developers similarly work on scratching their latest coding itch. Perhaps the latest Apple gadget grabs their attention, Slashdot is their primary news source, and the depth of their philanthropy consists of attempts at turning science fiction into science fact. Such is life, though, that one is often faced with events that make us step back, take pause, and reach for some fresh perspective.

You see yourself at a fork in the road on your journey through life. You might be leaving a job. Perhaps you're moving residences. Maybe you are fortunate to have become involved with a significant other and are now enjoying the warmth of the mythical daystar together. One eventual certainty that we all deal with in some form or fashion, though, is life and death.

In the aftermath of one of the deadliest earthquakes on record, I'm left in a state of incomprehensible disbelief at the capacity of the human race for ignorance, intolerance, failures in communication, and the general lack of understanding of our fellow human beings. I really don't mean to be offensive (though I will undoubtedly offend some), but am attempting to articulate something altogether more blunt and (with luck) poignant so that you may see your potential, communicate effectively with others, and make a difference.

I can be just as guilty of ignorance as the next person, absorbed into a world of technology, artificial presence, anonymous profiles, and the next line of code. The pragmatist in me already knows the statistics and percentages. No matter how much I try, the majority of my thoughts in a given day are still probably going to be about my friends, family, or one of the source code projects I manage. We can all, however, still make a big difference even doing what we love most through a little sensory awareness and understanding.

Where am I going with this? It's certainly not about global suffering. This is not some guilt trip to get people to pledge donations; I'm not even going to begin to touch on the morality of prescribed actions (or inactions). This is about global participation and how we all interact.

Everyone has a dominant sensory preference. We naturally use our senses every day to interact with others, to learn, to interpret, to perceive, to understand. For most people, their preference falls into one of three major categories: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Visual obviously relates to pictures and imagery, auditory covers the gamut of language (including written, spoken, and heard), and kinesthetic involves touch with experience. An individual's preference often permeates through them, affecting the way they behave, the speed and tone of their voice, their choice of words, and even their appearance.

To figure out your own preference, consider what you might say to a friend that is explaining something to you:

* "I see what you mean."

* "I hear what you're saying."

* "I know how you feel."

When you're learning something new, perhaps you go hunting for an instructional YouTube video, maybe you pick up a book on the subject, or do you just figure things out as you go along? When you see "M-O-M", what comes to mind? It might be the image of a particular mom, the sound of your own mother's voice, or some sensation associated with Mom such as a caress, a comforting inner warmth, or the smell of dinner cooking. Each question by itself isn't indicative as your response can be swayed by whatever is on your mind today and past experiences. After a while, though, you start to get a picture.

Do you know what mine is? If you've been paying attention, I've left many clues throughout this article. I'll give you another hint: I'm not one to mince words.

Tuning into another person's sensory preference provides a very powerful communication resource that can help resolve arguments, establish rapport, make friends, better understand learning difficulties, explain a viewpoint more effectively, and so much more. It can help you understand others better and help others understand you. Author and speaker Nicholas Boothman sells interesting arguments for how this awareness can be leveraged to seal a business deal, make people like you, or even fall in love with you all in as little as "90 seconds or less". In 1983, Harvard professor Howard Gardner more academically proposed his theory of multiple intelligences that describes how an individual manifests varying levels of sensory preference across eight categories.

If you're interested in figuring out what your preference is, there are plenty of online tests available, such as the Learning Styles Quiz and the Style Quiz. While I wouldn't go so far as to claim that you will find love, realizing your preference and tuning your sensory awareness can help bridge the gap with others. Once you understand yourself better, you listen to others, watch what they say, and pay attention to the words they use. Have you ever been in violent agreement with someone? This is often just a sensory language mismatch where the two sides just don't see, hear, or get what the other is saying due to the way they are saying it.

As open source participants, the main aspect of our activity that binds everyone together is the notion of a global community. The open source community is pervasively global, highly connected, and highly motivated. Open source software is used by millions of people around the world across a wide diversity of cultures and upbringing. This international community binds together people that are often perceived as highly solitary individuals into a gregarious social collective. Through communication, collaboration, and participation, strength is derived and impressive work gets done.

Most people passively ignore that which does not directly affect them or they obsess on their immediate future. The poetic Thomas Gray stated well that "where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." When you find yourself at a fork in the road, reflect on your collaborative potential and your ability to realize the sensory tendencies of those you work with. Resist the urge to work in private. Find a common ground for communication and collaboration. Seek others out. Be a delegate. Be a participant. Listen to what people say and pay attention to how others communicate what they are thinking.

A community that communicates well is generally a healthy community and one that can be supremely productive. The next time you reflect on where you are and where you are going, look around you. Take in some perspective.

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