Today is Election Day. And because I'm feeling a little hopeful about the outcome, instead of harboring the cynical atitude I've often adopted over the period of the campaign, it seems like a good time to look at physical mood.
The meaning of "mood" in this sense emerges from the observation that when we speak we communicate very often also with our bodies, posture, even facial expressions. This is how we pull off "sarcasm," by giving physical cues opposite to the meaning of the words we speak. Additionally, we often embody moods, like "wonderment" or "resignation," unconsciously and automatically in everyday life situations. These moods we adopt color the physical space we live in and communicate from, even when we are not consciously aware of it.
So the total package of linguistic communication is a complex soup of words and physical cues flowing through a very broadband pipe, including much more information than the channel carrying our words alone.
Because of this, it makes sense for designers of linguistic practices to mirror Aikido in speaking and listening encounters to explore ways of recognizing and dealing with the impact of physical mood on the overall exchange.
I began learning about the importance of physical mood in communication while I was a part-time student of Richard Heckler, a consultant and Aikido teacher in Northern California. He declares, "your body is the life you lead." Additional details on mood are drawn from the work of Fernando Flores.
We can identify a number of different moods that we and others adopt and live in as we confront the world. Some of them may rob us of power, such as "resignation" and it's clever cousin, "cynicism"; "resentment," and "fear." These moods kill off our motivation or ability to provide leadership, as we might want to do in difficult verbal situations. On the other side of the mood spectrum arise "confidence," "hopefulness," "wonder," and "compassion," to suggest a few. These moods tend to open up the future and enhance our ability to move powerfully as we would in doing Aikido.
In Aikido we are inventing actions to deal with the entire physical situation. So if the attacker demonstrates a cold confidence we would probably do different Aikido than if the attacker was boiling over with rage. In Aikido we are trained to evaluate the mind of the attacker as it manifests through the attacker's physical energy and body. But it is the body that expresses everything, that projects the attacker's being into action.
In order to design practices of speaking and listening that mirror Aikido principles it makes sense to deal with the whole person here too. That means practicing ourselves with different combinations of words and moods to deal with the words and moods (however unconscious) of others in difficult everyday life situations.
A sticky methodological issue is how to intevene directly about another's mood when the other has not given us permission to do so.