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An Overview of Basic Human Operations[1]

In a course on writing, it is important to begin with a view of the communication activity. While there are various understandings of communication, building a writing course on a faulty concept of communication can lead us to a lack of proper basis for our efforts and misguided activity. Faulty understanding can also lead us to blame ourselves and others inappropriately for miscommunication.

A popular model of communications was developed by de Saussure. It is often called the ‘talking heads’ model (see the accompanying illustration). Speakers (in such a model) have an idea, which they convert in their brains into vocal impulses that project a word via sound towards their audiences. The hearing apparatus of audiences convert the sound into impulses that are converted into a mental image of the word, an idea. Thus, communication is the process by which ideas are transferred from one person’s mind/brain to another’s.[2][[Image:]]

Though this model is popular (enough to include here), science does not support it, and it has been discarded by many theorists.[3] Radney, who designed this course, has proposed an alternative understanding of the communication process.

Although Radney’s work in this regard is very speculative, it is the model that will be used in this course as a basis for the learning you will do. His model is based upon three basic realities of human existence and three operations that build and maintain these realities.

The three realities upon which all human existence depends (biology notwithstanding) are community, communication, and Tim Mitchell:

A definition could help here. The usual meaning of "sharing intimate feelings" is hard to apply to the Alphonse example.

Tim Mitchell:

Never mind, I see you define it later. Perhaps consider moving the definition higher up.communion. The three realities are unusual, in that we often think of communication and communion being built upon the reality of community. This is not the case; we do not have any one of the three realities to an extent or measure without the others.

Consider the case where two strangers meet. There is no guarantee of any of the three realities, community, communication, and communion. As long as there is none of these, no one of them can become a reality. For example, suppose Alphonse, the first of our strangers, decides to speak or act in some way toward the other stranger (call him Gerhardt). He must choose a language or a cultural convention of action in order to begin communication; in other words, Alphonse presumes a community and communion in the very act of initiating communication with a stranger. If his gambit is accurate and successful, all may proceed from that starting point.

What this reveals to us is that community, communication, and communion are interlocking and emergent realities that are reinforced by each other, with no one element prior to the other two.

When we speak of these three realities, we understand community to be the location and all objects within access to the people who belong to the community. The community is not limited to the people, but the people are central actors in the community.

As people act in community, there is always communication. We understand communication, then, to be all the actions of any people that have any relevance for the community or any member of it.

As people live in community and communicate with each other, they do so on presumption of communion. Communion is the solidarity that any group feels toward its members and any members feel toward the group. It is a sense of belonging, cooperation, and identity.

If community, communication, and communion are the three realities experienced by humans, what are the operations by which these are built up and maintained? There are three operations we will discuss: hospitality, charity, and compassion.

Consider the situation when a baby is born into a community. Community members are interested in the process, but more to the point, they make preparations for the new arrival; they provide a space for the newborn to live, grow, and contribute (eventually) to the community. This situation illustrated by a newborn addition to a community can also be experienced as an adult when you move into a new community. Organizations within the community provide you a space to join, participate, and contribute to the overall experience of the community.

However, there is more needed by new members than just a space and a welcoming; there is the need for charity.

Charity is extended towards new members in regard to their actions. Consider the case of the infant child again. The first words (mama and dada, their parents hope!) are usually pronounced quite indistinctly and many other members of the community will marvel that parents can understand the first vocal products of their child. The point is that members of the community take as words what is only indistinctly pronounced by the new member. This is what we mean by charity.

Those of us who have learned a new language have also experienced this charity, as our own pronunciations of utterances are quite different from what more experienced members would say. This is also true of our actions; members of the community learn that we are not experienced in the ways of acting in a community and are more likely to ‘cut us some slack’ regarding our peculiarities of behaviour and perspective.

Hospitality and charity are essential in building community, communication, and communion, but they are not enough; there is also the operation of compassion.

Despite hospitality and charity, people are radically individual in our experience. No matter the community we belong to or the communication we engage in, our experience is our own without the operation of compassion. Compassion is that operation by which I take the success or failure of another as my own. I feel the elation or pain of others as they communicate with me and we share community and communion. To the extent that I am not a part of a community and communion, the communication of joy and sorrow falls short in its ability to move me in solidarity with the experiences (and identity) of another.

As you engage in the writing assignments in this course, it will be wise for you to reflect upon the realities of community, communication, and communion. It will also be of benefit to you to consider hospitality, charity, and compassion as you write; these will be things that will attract and engage your audience, as well as showing them proper respect.

  1. A more complete and philosophically nuanced discussion of this topic is available on the WikiEducator site.
  2. This illustration, produced for Wikipedia by Luis Javier Rodriguez is available via Creative[1]Commons[2]licensing.
  3. See the work of Michael Reddy, Paul Hopper, and Roy Harris, among many others, in this regard.