Sunday, 10 September 2017

Edward T Hall: a stranger in a strange land

I'm not anthropologist/sociologist so I don't know if Edward T Hall's work is obsolete, but he is one of those whose work I admire (besides Max Weber, of course). According to Wikipedia, he was an influential colleague of Marshall McCluhan and Buckminster Fuller with his work on what is called, proxemics, or how culturally-specific conception of space (and time) influences different cultures differently. I think I still own a couple of books written by him.

His insights were very important to me as I struggled with the inevitable (sometimes) vast differences between the worlds in which my parents grew up and lived in and that to which I was enculturated by my education (which I inadvertently intensified with my natural curiosity). I've always felt somewhat alienated and have always been quite sensitive about it.

Things haven't seemed to really changed at all. In fact my awareness of Hall's wonderful insights seem to have alienated me further. I love living and working in Rankin Inlet and have made wonderful friends there. But I am still me: always the stranger in a strange land. The loneliness I sometimes feel (even at a house party) does become overwhelming, and, I must admit, puts me increasingly in a state of clinical depression which seems to last longer than the previous ones. I sometimes cannot even leave the house for days.

I'm a teacher but I've always made a conscious effort to not try and change any of my students in the same way new knowledge changes or affects me. I'm an Inuk and not a white person but I'm very much aware that I really don't belong in either. Only once or twice in my life have I come across people of similar circumstances. But even these have turned out to be only "two ships in the night".

Sometimes when I'm marking my students' papers I'm reminded of how different I am (or, feel that I am very different). What makes me empathetic can also become a source of great personal pain and loneliness.

Edward T Hall's work is something that I deeply appreciate but it takes too long to unroll to people who've never read him. I know that I'm going through what he describes so ably but I cannot share it to alleviate my sense of alienation. I sometimes feel that I subject people I love to a Cassandra Phenomenon - Cassandra is a mythical figure with whom Apollo falls in love and gives her the gift of prophesy but she spurns his love so he curses her so that no one can ever believe her warnings. But I digress.

The Cassandra Phenomenon is a term that is used to describe people like me affecting those we love deeply:

and here:

This syndrome is I think why I live alone. This fact of my life really bothers me because it really isn't my choice.

Now why did I make the connection between Hall and the Cassandra Phenomenon? Because I think Aspies and Cassandras suffer most deeply the inadvertent misunderstandings and miscommunications that almost need an Edward T Hall to sort out.


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