In the essay “Compassionate Communication,” Rosenberg (n.d.) offers a model of two modes of communication, that of Jackal and Giraffe – one the scavenger and hunter that attacks, the other the large-hearted animal that lives more peacefully.

“At an early age, most of us were taught to speak and think Jackal. This language is from the head. It was a way of mentally classifying people into varying shades of good and bad, right and wrong. Ultimately it provokes defensiveness, resistance, and counterattack. Giraffe bids us to speak from the heart, to talk about what is going on for us – without judging others. In this idiom, you give people and opportunity to say yes, although you respect no for an answer. Giraffe is a language of requests; Jackal is a language of demands” (Rosenberg, n.d.).

One might diagram the separated, fragmented relationship between the Jackal and Giraffe modes of communication, this way:

Figure 2. Rosenberg's model

Figure 2. Rosenberg's model

When confronted with the division, there are mental, physical, emotional or even paradigmatic barriers which separate humans from each other. And yet, the project is to “love the stranger” (Lerner, 2004) and to “communicate and share meaning” (Bohm, 1996, p. 46) across these thresholds. A diagram which represents the territory of this threshold crossing is:

Figure 3. Crossing the threshold

Figure 3. Crossing the threshold

In this middle space is the place of transition and uncertainty identified in Bridges, and his model of change (1980). Therefore, this model of crossing the threshold between self and other is a model of change. This is the liminal space, the borderland that is between worlds, whether these worlds are of identity, culture or divisions that are physically manifest. The quality of these liminal spaces is that change is possible, especially 2nd order change. This is the “Neutral Zone” between endings and beginning in Bridges (1980). The “liminality” of this space is one where the normal world, of rules and roles, is suspended; boundariies are crossed which enable participants to observe and evaluate that world of rules and roles (van Gennep, 1960). This is the “Chapel Perilous” about which Willson says: “Everything you fear is waiting for you with slavering jaws in Chapel Perilous” (1989, p. 6).

Hill (2003) suggests one’s intramural group is one’s own familiar community and beyond a fence of comfort is that intermural other. Because humans see the other as distinct and different, I suggest that there is a correlation between the Giraffe mode of communication, which attempts to be peaceful and collective, and the intramural group, that group with which one is comfortable and in which one is both accepting and accepted. The Jackal other is across an intermural boundary, a threshold of different-ness, and is approached without trust or acceptance because of the division of identity. This begs the question of how can one ever cross any threshold to connect with the other.

Posted by John Bell on December 10, 2006
Tags: The Fifth Principle of Dialogue

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