From the post The Power of Situational Pressure, and There is No Truth, Only Perceptions; we know that situation is the greater determinant of behavior and we are all subjected to differences in perceptions due to the absence of an objective truth (lest scientific truths). The variable that determines the resulting action is thus the interpretation of situation, and by extension; framing and euphemism.
Interpretation to Action
Here is a quote that accurately explains how our interpretation of situation translates to actions:
“How we interpret a situation guides how we act in 2 distinct ways. What we think the situation we are confronting is about determines how we think, feel, and act in response. Is an amendment to a bill in congress an attempt to improve it or a political tactic to scuttle it? Is a friend’s silence while we’re talking about a budding romance a sign of approval or displeasure? How we interpret a situation also influences the meaning we assign to our own possible actions, thereby determining what we choose to do.”(Gilovich and Ross, 2015)
What Determines Interpretation of Situation
How we interpret the situation depends mainly on 3 interlinked-factors: individual idiosyncrasy, motivation and framing. Interlinked because the first and second can also spill over to cause the third. How a person choose to interpret depends on whether, say, he’s an optimist or a pessimist; and what kind of images and feelings are evoked with the language used to frame the situation.
Framing and Euphemism – The Name of The Game
It would be futile to change someone’s idiosyncrasy, but we do have control over how the situation is framed sometimes. When you choose a name for a proposal to increase budget for your sports club, are you going to put “Request for fund increment” or “Necessary funding adjustments for team to reach a greater height”? Which do you think is going to be more likely to be accepted? The latter one, logically. The name of the game matters because it determines the images and instinctive interpretations that are conjured in the intended reader’s head; thereby having profound impact on resulting response/actions. An example can be seen in the image below:
People often call the usage of language to create frames euphemism and classical economists are generally abhorrent of framing, since it makes information imperfect; causing irrational decisions to occur. As I continue to blog, I would nonetheless begin to make avid use of euphemism. If you are on this journey with me to practice this skill, I must remind us that we need to use euphemism/framing with a pure intention in mind lest we fall into the abyss of using it for manipulation and control. We do not soften language to masks the truth; but instead to communicate the truth of our intent.
Why euphemism and framing are still important
I’ve learnt from the Cold War chapters of history that misinterpretations and miscommunication can lead to mistrust, and in the extreme case of Cold War; can bring the world to the brink of nuclear obliteration. Hence, we have the responsibility to represent ourselves and our plans accurately – the way we intended it to be – in order to prevent unnecessary conflicts from occurring. This is where the use of language to create frames / euphemism comes in.
In taking a step further towards using social psychology to improve our interactions, we need to use framing/euphemism. That means being more conscious of the language used (and expanding on vocab, that’s gonna be a thing for me now). Nonetheless, care must be taken to always imbue ourselves with pure intentions so as to avoid abusing this power. We must always remind ourselves to use framing / euphemism not to mask or obscure truth; but rather, to communicate the truths of our intent. Remember that.
Gilovich, T. and Ross, L. (2015) The wisest One in the room: How you can benefit from social psychology’s Five most powerful insights. Philadelphia, PA, United States: Free Press.