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The 2006 International GS Conference: a personal view.

THE INSTITUTE of General Semantics held its 2006 International GS Conference on General Semantics at the Arlington Texas Hilton Hotel from October 26 to 28. The conference was, to me, (thank you Wendell Johnson) a delightful success. The accommodations (personal rooms, meeting rooms, meals and refreshments) were tip-top. And the meat (of the conference speakers and discussions) was nutritious.

The broad agenda of speakers included folks from many foreign countries, such as Argentina, France, and California. The topics ranged from scientifically deep (Ed Bailey's tour of the human brain, and Andy Hilgartner's treatise of "tacit identity" hidden in language) to street-smart applications (Mike Fuhlhage's application of GS to politics, and Milton Dawes' opening our awareness to the rhythms of nature).

Ben Hauck provided the lead-off batter with his talk "On Knitting Sweaters During Conferences." He defined "sense" as the behaviors of others that fit our expectations of them, and "nonsense" as those that do not fit. Because our expectations are not always rooted in reality, neither are sense and nonsense always "real." As an actor, Ben jolts people by behaving contrary to their expectations of him.

I followed with "Making Sense Constructively," and described a model of how we humans construct reality through our ongoing construction project called "communication." To illustrate, I used the concept of "I like Ben," showing how individuals' "card decks" might misinterpret that message. It was just an illustration. At the time, I didn't even know Ben enough to like him, other than hearing his talk and wondering when he was going to get to the "knitting" in the title. [See the author's presentation following this review.-Ed.]

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Jeff Dafler and Ross Jackson then discussed "Freedom as Ego-Nihilism," in which they used the mathematical model of the identity matrix to explore what we mean by "the real self." The left, vertical axis of the matrix represents the "selves" we assign to ourselves: child, spouse, parent, etc. The top, horizontal axis represents the "others" with whom we hold relations: parents, spouse, children, etc. The diagonal produced in that matrix consists of ones (1s) showing a unitary relation. But some relations are not unitary, so off the diagonal we can see entries like 0.2 joining "friend" with "parents." Dafler and Jackson added a 3rd dimension of "value" to the matrix (e.g., assigning good/bad evaluations to the various relationships) making the model a cube. Sub-areas of that cube are called 3-dimensional "identity bricks." In constructing our model, we struggle to make entries, and this shows that self-identity is not an absolute picture. We can deconstruct it ... even to nihilism. With that understanding, we discover the freedom to construct "who we are" in a conscious, productive manner.

Bruce Kodish, now immersed in writing Alfred Korzybski's biography, next told of some of IGS' founder's life-events in 1916 and 1917--using an excellent Polish accent when he quoted the master's words. Even in those early (pre-Science and Sanity) years, Korzybski used GS concepts to accomplish real tasks in the real world, such as overcoming interpersonal resistance to get armaments loaded onto ships.

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Kerrick Murray introduced the field of Complementary Alternative Medicine, and particularly to Ida Rolf's Structural Integration and Emilie Conrad's Continuum Movement. He said, "Both practices provide new orientations and sense-abilities at the non-verbal level, facilitating a greater capacity to 'make sense' of our world."

That non-verbal emphasis cried out for a non-verbal exercise, and next on the schedule was Milton Dawes, who had us clap various rhythms in audience sections. He recruited Bruce Kodish to lead us in making wind sounds with our mouths. Bruce used a pen as a symphonic conductor's baton with a Polish enthusiasm reminiscent of Paderewski. To help us recognize Nature's rhythms, Milton then took us outside to see the wave rhythms in the pool.

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After we returned to the conference room, Andy Hilgartner spoke of "A Neglected Aspect of Time-binding: Rejecting Tacit 'Identity'." He notes that we have a subliminal (tacit) identity between maps and territories that is built right into our Western Indo-European language, of which we are unaware as we pass assumptions from generations to the next ones (i.e., time-bind).

Michael Round (with a last-minute conscript) presented "A Polite Discussion," his play portraying two co-workers making sense of competing conversational scripts: 1) asking clarifying questions, or 2) providing a straightforward position. Both can lead to conflict. Round proposes that we change our approach to verbal conflict by seeking to keep the conversation going with congeniality.

In the evening of the first day, many of us car-pooled to the Read House for wine, cheese, and a tour. I had visited the IGS headquarters a year ago and found the changes since then to be impressive. Pictures from Korzybski's Connecticut office cover the walls in the classroom. Two long rows of archives of materials, gathered from the estates of Kendig, the Reads, the Morains and others, provide research opportunities and a historical grounding. Two large office spaces enable Steve Stockdale and his staff to carry on the operations of the Institute with efficiency and economy.

The second day began with Marty Levinson's presentation on "General Semantics and Emotional Intelligence." He pointed out that GS can help us know our emotions, manage them, motivate ourselves, recognize emotions in others, and handle relationships.

Ed Bailey's medical background showed in his detailed exploration of the brain's structure and function. He conjoined GS with Albert Ellis' Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (Ellis gave the 1991 Korzybski Memorial Lecture). Bailey bases rationality on "cognitive accuracy"--accurate information, accurate processing and accurate awareness of the event level. But, under the principle of GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out,) faulty inputs lead to mistakes, including irrational demands on ourselves and others: with inaccurate data, we instead just "should" all over ourselves and each other.

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Next, Sandra Pate shared how she uses GS in therapy with families. Her trans-generational approach deals with language and behavior that is passed on to subsequent generations, distorting reality for the families and leading to sustained depression and abuse.

Nora Miller, in her "Making Sense of Loss," touched the audience by relating how she navigated through the grief from the deaths of her mother, husband, and sister. GS helped her not ask the question "Why me?" and showed her that she had control of constructing the events' meanings, rather than accepting the conventional ones. She advised the practice of telling one's story as an aid in processing and coping with grief.

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Laura Bertone, visiting from Argentina, presented "From the Confusion of Babel." She drew upon her experience as a translator in such bodies as the U.N. After describing some of the ways that translation can lead to misunderstanding, she concluded that, "The problem is not to find bridges between one language and the next; the problem is to find a common ground for understanding no matter what the language." Thus, the importance of GS.

Vanessa Biard-Schaeffer, visiting from Paris, spoke "On Regionalism." She showed how, in constructing political regions, authorities can seek to control various interests, such as requiring a region to use only the national language/dialect to create national political unity, dividing cohesive regions up to minimize their secession power, etc. She showed lovely slides of a ruined castle, a snow-topped mountain, and a sea-side resort, asking the audience to yell out where they were located on the globe. I yelled "Kansas." I shouldn't have. They were all in the Pyrenees, demonstrating the diversity of what has been treated as a "single" political entity.

Missouri School of Journalism's Mike Fuhlhage, based on my answer above, decided to give a talk on "What's the Matter with Kansas?" Responding to the popular book of the same title, Mike observed that the electorate in Kansas seemed to vote against their own interests, and that their "irrationality" resulted from politicians' tricky use of language. Aha! The solution is the GS' tools of to-meness, non-dichotomizing, indexing, etc.

Erica Gordon then spoke on "The Semantic Person," based on Irving Lee's idealized person who actually uses GS in everyday transactions. If we have enough of them, we might prevent future holocausts. But how can we imperfect people become that model? We can each approach it through commitment, education, passing the ideas on through time binding, and practicing the skills throughout our lives until they become more automatic.

Andrea Johnson honored Bob Pula's phrase in her presentation "Making Sense of Change Thinging." She combined the GS Structural Differential with Kurt Lewin's Force Field Analysis (a valuable tool I have used many times in industry). She described "Driving Forces," which foster the desired change, and "Restraining Forces," which tend to oppose the change. She noted that both types of forces are open to our creative influence, and by analyzing these forces in day-to-day problems, we can discover realistic solutions.

The next presentation proved to be the most popular and successful of them all. Bill, the bartender, presented us with libations in the cocktail hour.

After a fine banquet, Temple University Professor Renee Hobbs delivered the 54th Annual Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture, "Literacy in the 21st Century." She provided each of us with a clever tool developed by her program: a cardboard model of the ubiquitous hand-held TV remote control. This panel had numerous "buttons" which, when mentally pushed, prompted the holder to look into the truth/falsity of a statement, to ask if the statement was made for public good or private gain, to question what was left out, etc. Professor Hobbs observed that, in her various conference experiences, the lecturers faced brutal, confrontational questions afterward. She was surprised that at our conference the questioners were amazingly polite. I say "Way to go, gang! We're applying the GS concepts."

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A few observations about the conference structure: Steve Stockdale and his staff did a wonderful job of structuring and running it, down to scheduling the order of speakers so their topics fit and reinforced others. The 2-day format (as opposed to 2 1/2 days) eliminated attendees skipping the last morning to catch flights.

The end of our conference was, for me, bittersweet. The sweet part was that I got to know Ben ... and I do like him. The bitter part was that I looked all over the Hilton Hotel and never saw Paris.

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BOB EDDY*

*Bob Eddy is a management consultant from the Philadelphia area who trains managers and employees in organizations throughout the USA and as far away as England and Hong Kong. He was the corporate Personnel Director for jeans maker Levi Strauss' 26,000 worldwide employees, holds a B.S. and M.B.A. from UCLA, served as a Lieutenant, Senior Grade in the Navy, co-founded the Leeds & Northrup Development Institute, published articles in Training & Development Journal and Training Magazine, holds Beta Gamma Sigma and Mensa honors, led Drexel University's Continuing Education Advisory Board, and was selected by the students as Rosemont College's first Facilitator of the Year. For recreation, he won the Pennsylvania state racquetball championship for his age group in 2000.
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Author:Eddy, Bob
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Words:1853
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