Lacunae Theory

One salient quality of human nature is the tendency to gather around us others with similar characteristics. We feel the most comfortable in those surroundings, and for the most part we don’t actively seek to stretch those boundaries by venturing too far “outside the gates.”

We’ve all heard the admonition about avoiding certain topics at the dinner table if we want to prevent a word fight becoming a food fight. There’s a certain logic to that, but it doesn’t mean that other occasions should necessarily suffer the same restrictions. Hopefully we are intelligent enough to manage the frequency at which we both encounter and precipitate situations that include volatile topics for discussion.

Although a friend of mine and I exist at opposite ends of the spectrum on some issues, and our discussions can get a bit vigorous, we never allow them to deteriorate below the basic level of mutual respect and cordiality. I can’t speak for him, but if the truth be known we would both probably love to present our side with such power of logic and persuasiveness that the other could only exclaim, “I never thought of it that way. Now I agree with you.” Needless to say, neither of us holds our breath waiting for that to occur.

We had been discussing the topic of forwarding emails. You undoubtedly know a friend or acquaintance who puts you in an address group and can’t resist the temptation to bombard you with the latest revelation that obviously has to be true because it’s on the Internet, right?

In this case, the discussion resulted in the following email from him that presented what I found to be a fascinating concept. With minor editing, here it is:

Tosh,

Thanks for the refreshing clarity and candor about e-life. No surprises, either–I think I have a half-good idea about where you come from and find it interesting and enlightening. I always enjoy sharing knowledge, opinions and differences in that positive spirit with people of general good will, integrity and intelligence.

Here’s a high-flown term of my own to describe where that process goes awry:  Lacunae Theory.

Lacunae is a medical jargon word. In psychiatry the term “superego lacunae” references gaps in an individual’s functioning conscience. An official online version of the term follows. Note how they use an abstraction in the quote:

la·cu·na (l-kyn) n. pl. la·cu·nae (-n) or la·cu·nas: 1) an empty space or a missing part; a gap: “self-centered in opinion, with curious lacunae of astounding ignorance” (Frank Norris); 2) anatomy: a cavity, space, or depression, especially in a bone, containing cartilage or bone cells.

So, what’s my point? It is a theory about communication and interaction that people online (or in person) may share and compare their deeper viewpoints, even aiming to share their “deepest.”

But in terms of those items mentioned above, and others–good will, integrity, tolerance for differences, management of aggressive irritabilities, mutual respect for intelligence, maturity and so on–people will have their individual lacunae of gaps, inabilities, disabilities in thinking, communication and mood management. The more supple and intelligent people are, the better they can handle, even enjoy, working within and around their differences.

Other people, the ones you mentioned in terms of sending around e-mails “. . . not even filtering with common sense . . .” have a tremendous difficulty getting past the lacunae they spot in others. And they may not have much sense of their own lacunae.

My theory is that mismatches or overall size and proportion of lacunae in two individuals will be highly influential or determinative in their ability to communicate over an extended time. Of course, lacunae mismatches can be addressed and evolve. I hope my description of Lacunae Theory reveals the spirit that I use in approaching differences.

End quote.

Now that’s a great contribution to the process of interacting with others well even in situations that can deteriorate in a heartbeat if individuals allow emotional responses to overcome reason. This is particularly true when one side of the conversation reverts to a classic failure of logic known as the ad hominem argument: against the man. This unfortunate development occurs when a person allows their side of the issue to degenerate  from an argument of substance to an argument of being.

To illustrate with an over-the-top example, you’ve been debating a topic with someone and suddenly the other person says, “You really must be dumber than a stump.”

Ah, yes. They couldn’t convince you they were right, which obviously means there’s something very wrong with you.

Using my friend’s words, I might be tempted to reply, “And it’s obvious to me that in the place of your brain resides a very large lacuna, dude!”

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