Assagioli speaks about the art of good communication and the different types of communication we have internally and with the external world.
By Roberto Assagioli, 1965, From the Assagioli Archive in Florence. Original Title: Comunicazione. Translated and Edited with Notes by Jan Kuniholm. From the transcripts of a series of lectures given approximately 1965. From the last page it is apparent that the audience for these lectures was Meditation Group for the New Age. —Tr.
To cooperate, one must first communicate. I have told you how difficult it is to communicate well from the inner, spiritual point of view. And among the moderns the person who perhaps has written the most profound things in this field is Martin Buber, a great philosopher from Jerusalem who is now well known and much appreciated, but not yet as much as he deserves. According to him, communication in human relationship is what is essential to man. As we progress I will read to you a few excerpts from him.
Between the extremes of individualism and collectivism Buber asserts a third possibility: “The fundamental fact of existence,” he says, “is man in relation to man. Neither man closed in on himself, nor man assimilated by the group, but only man open in relationship with man defines his true nature. Man’s encounter with man does not merely meet the need to be together, it is not merely agreement on a particular plan of life, but it is the transfer from one to the other of a vital portion of one’s nature; whether this gift is called love or sympathy or respect or trust. The occasion of the encounter is external, fortuitous or chance, but when communion arises, the occasion is no longer a chance but an event, a destiny. Encounter is the sacrament of existence; it is sacrament when man encounters the absolute in friendship, fraternity, marriage; it is sacrament when man encounters God in community. The duty of the modern religious man is to recall the existence of life in communion. Making possible the conditions of communion is the task of education.”
And here he speaks of dialogue: “I know of three kinds: true dialogue, no matter whether spoken or silent, in which each of the participants is present with the other, or others, in their complete and particular state, and addresses them with the intention of establishing a mutual and living relationship. Then there is the technical dialogue which is determined only by the need for objective understanding; and finally there is the monologue masquerading as dialogue — two or more men, meeting in space, talk to each other in a strange, tortuous and elusive way, and imagine that they have escaped the torment of being led to their own wellsprings.
The life of dialogue begins with man. In it there are not gifted or less gifted, but only those who give themselves and those who spare themselves. You bring before me the man with his commitments and duties — yes, I mean just that: the man in the workshop, in the office, in the store, in the tractor, beside the car. I am not interested in “men.” I welcome those who are here with me, I think of those who are oppressed by technology, conditioned by a thousand games. Dialogue is not the product of spiritual refinement, it is a work of creation by the creature, it must not subsist only with the pure, but with the turbid, with the inhibited, with the vulgar. In the lights of every day’s compunctions and graces where the will for duties and high work is found, when eye to eye, glance to glance, word to word my self opens in the you, and you in my self. No factory, no office is so forsaken by creation that a creative gaze cannot pass from workstation to workstation, from table to table, a sober, fraternal gaze that configures the reality of creation that is being fulfilled in dialogue.”
You see, it is a bit of a difficult expression but it is understood that this communion should be woven into daily life, in every occasion, and — as they say — this dialogue does not need the word; it can be silent: a look, a gesture, an attitude, can communicate as much and more than the word.
I said that language is often the cause of error; that is, not properly language, but the way we use it. This depends on our unclear way of thinking, not noticing the mistakes we make in thinking and expressing ourselves. I will now give some clear examples of this.
I know you know the paradox of the Greeks: there is a Cretan who says, “All Cretans are liars.”But then if all Cretans are liars, even what he [the speaker] says is a lie, and then it is not true that all Cretans are liars, for he can also tell the truth. How is this resolved? I will now explain. This is a typical patently obvious example of a wrong, artificial statement. It is not possible that precisely all Cretans are all liars. It is also not possible that they are always and constantly liars. What he meant is that in general Cretans are not to be trusted because they often tell lies; and this may be true. But formulated thus, “All Cretans are liars,” it is clear that he was shooting himself in the foot by being a Cretan himself.
So in such cases one has to make sure to distinguish the wrong setting or the misplaced statement; and this is a clear and simple example of many misplaced problems, which are unreal and artificial and therefore have no solution because of the way they are posed. However, this is but an exaggeration and parody of a number of statements that we make that are just as wrong and less harmless than that; in fact they are simply very harmful.
Let me give you an example. When you say to a child, “You are bad,” you make the same mistake as the Cretan. Because that child is not bad completely and always, he has only committed a momentary act of naughtiness. Well, the mother or friends, even loving him say, “You are bad.” Now this is fundamentally mistaken. You can say, “You are bad; you are delinquent,” only of a moral lunatic and extreme pathological cases, if they exist. This has not happened: it is only that at that given moment someone commits a wickedness, or one commits a crime. But one cannot say, “You are like that.”
The mistake is always here: to put a label, I would say a static tag; that is, to attribute a quality, or a defect, as something permanent, complete and absolute. And then we make this mistake all the time. And all our judgments: we say, “that’s how it is,” “I am like that” — we always give definitions. But to define like this is to limit. Now limitation actually does not exist, to put it in psychological terms: this applies to every person, to every situation that is in the process of becoming — everything flows, everything is in the process of becoming, and therefore changes — instead of being fixed, crystallized and therefore artificial. Life is continuous flowing — internal life, external life — so you can never put a tag on it. On the other hand, everything is relative; there is nothing absolute. Now any tag is something absolute, and therefore fundamentally mistaken.
To say that someone is a criminal is one of the worst mistakes and wickednesses that society commits almost continuously. And in fact the whole new conception of so-called criminal offenders seen either as sick, or as a product of a series of environmental or even physical conditions, shows that there is no such thing as “the criminal:” there is a person who, either for given reasons, or under given conditions, in given situations commits the crime. But this is a very different thing, it is completely different. It is not the criminal that society must or can punish for there is no human situation to be solved by protecting society, on the one hand; but rather by trying to change the conditions that induce that given person to commit anti-social acts. That is the difference.
And so of education: the incalculable evil that so many mothers do while loving their children by tacking on those labels of “you’re bad,” “you’re capricious,” “you don’t do one good thing,” or “you’re going to end up bad.” Now all these definitions are poisons — if people knew the harm they do they would cease. Because the unconscious — which is in each one of us — accepts and receives these suggestions even if maybe the conscious does not receive them or protests; but a part of the unconscious does take them in.
There is the example of a person who has been hypnotized, in which the critical waking consciousness is suppressed, so whatever you say to a hypnotized person, [upon waking] he accepts it: if he is told he is Napoleon he poses as Napoleon; if he is told “you’re drunk” he acts drunk; that is, the unconscious plays the part that is suggested to him. Now a part of all of us, and especially of children, of young people has this suggestibility, this receptivity, so if you say to a child over and over again “you are bad,” the unconscious accepts it and then consequently plays the part of the bad guy: he has been told he is bad, therefore he feels obliged to be bad. You see how much harm can be done by the misuse of language. He is not bad; a part of him at that given moment acts that way. And so it is in so many other applications.
To say that one is sick — no, there is an organ that is not functioning well. It is not that there is “a sick one,” for a completely sick person would be dead; but there is something wrong, there is a cog that is not functioning well, but that does not mean we put the tag “he is sick.” Here the other concept of relativity comes in: no one is 100% healthy, and no one is 100% sick. So right now that given person has this given condition. One must always keep this in mind: to think this way in order to speak this way. This is revolutionary, but in a good way.
Now the [modern] science of semantics warns very much against precisely this, and advises us to always refuse to make categorical and absolute statements. Semanticists also affirm this in a logical sense against the principle of contradiction, against the principle of the excluded middle: “either something is white or it is black; either it is good or it is bad; either it is true or it is false.” All this is mistaken; and in fact there is an infinite gradation of gray. But it is much more convenient to say “black or white” than to try to ascertain what gradation of gray it is. So we always keep in mind in our communications, in speaking, this cause of error and harm to others that is committed with these absolutisms, with this putting on of tags.
Z.: And I think this also applies to the reverse, when praising a person.
R.A.: Sure. If you idealize a person and believe that he is perfect, then afterwards naturally comes disappointment, the idol falls, shatters, and then you go to the opposite excess: “he is a monster; he was false, etc.” No, it’s a human being, it’s a mixture of grays; first you thought it was white, then you say, “then it’s black,” no, it’s a range of grays, or an alternation of black and white.
It is the same even for physical sensations. I have said several times, as the director of the Office of Optics said, “We attribute certain qualities to objects, for example, colors: red, green, etc., but it is not that the object is red or is green; the object simply give off certain vibrations that to our consciousness give the sensation of red and green, but to the color-blind they do not.”
And so for hot and cold; sometimes there are arguments, “it’s hot today”— “but no, it’s cold.” There is no such thing as objective hot and cold, and here is an amusing experiment that proves it: let’s take three containers, in the first one there is water at 5 degrees, in the second one at 15 degrees and in the third one at 30 degrees. Now we put our left hand in the container at 5 degrees and our right hand in the container at 30 degrees for a few minutes; then we take our hands out and put both of them in the container at 15 degrees. What happens? — the left hand feels the water as hot, the right hand feels it is cold by contrast. If you ask the question, “Is this water hot or is it cold?” it turns out that the question that makes no sense. It is not that the water is hot or cold, but it gives us the sensation of hot or cold by contrast to the previous sensation.
So even for the senses there is the same relativism and subjectivism. All sensations: visual, tactile, auditory, etc., are subjective sensations due to external stimuli, but the external stimulus is always vibration, which depending on our sense organs or our state of mind gives us the impression of red, of green; of hot of cold; of pleasant of unpleasant. A certain scent is pleasant for some, but unpleasant for others, but it is always the same odor particles of that reach our olfactory buds. So one must always remember this.
Now that we are all convinced of it, it seems clear and obvious to us, but I challenge you to be consistent for 24 hours. There is so much habit, and the mere suggestion of making these gross mistakes that you sink (somebody says, “I don’t accept the challenge!”). Now these are very serious things — how much harm comes from these mistakes in semantics. So first think well, think clearly, and then speak well; don’t get carried away by “clichés,” habits of language.
So this is one cause of errors. The other one, as I said last time, is related to misunderstandings due to different meanings given to the same word. The word “love”
is one of the most significant examples.
Now I will give a few more examples. So it is said matter is in a solid state, liquid state, or gaseous state. Now this is wrong, because there is a state that is neither solid nor liquid: it is the colloidal state. It is the unstable equilibrium state of matter, which has certain qualities of solid and certain qualities of liquid, in various proportions and in equilibrium in continuously varying proportions. Well, biological life depends on the colloidal state. All our tissues, all our cells are in a colloidal state. Organic liquids are not really liquid, they always have something viscous. In short, the colloidal state of matter makes life possible.
Question: By what is the colloidal state regulated?
R.A.: It is regulated wonderfully by the intelligence of life energy. If the physical body were all solid or all liquid, there would be no life. So you see, you would have to start with the living matter that is in the colloidal state, which is more important than both solid and liquid; and so for other things. It is the intermediate states that are often more important than the extreme states. Life exists neither in the extreme cold nor in the extreme hot, but neither does it exist with a constantly completely equal temperature; in life there must be an alternation within certain limits of opposite polarities, and thus of cold and hot, of summer and winter. A millionaire who would always want to go where there is a continuous summer would be sick, it would be bad for his health, his body would not withstand a climate that is always the same.
And now let’s take a more psychological and spiritual example: the word “love.” One uses the word love as if using the same word always indicates the same thing. Instead, it can be said that every time it is used, something different is meant. Meanwhile, already objectively and personally there are various levels of love. We talk about instinctive love, passionate love, sentimental love, romantic love; there is possessive love, love that attracts, love instead that pours out, that radiates; there is personal love, there is non-personal love, for example for an ideal; we also talk about the love of money, the love of glory; and there is spiritual love. So they are all types, different categories for which the same word love is always used.
So at the very least, you would have to put an adjective, and often you don’t. But this is but a first approximation. The fact is that none of these types of love is itself 100% pure, that is, in every feeling or feeling of love there is a percentage of various elements. So you cannot say “romantic love.” Yes, there is such a thing in the abstract, and you can talk about [the Romantic Era] as a historical period, but no one loves 100% romantically. You can say that movement prevailed then, but there were also the others in various proportions anyway. Not only that, but usually there is also relativity in time. A love can begin evidently at a given level, then go down to another, or go up, or oscillate between various levels — and this in the same person at various moments in time. So there is this relativity of nature, of proportion, and also according to moments, durations.
And in general this is not realized, and therefore there is an amount of misunderstanding. The constant misunderstandings between those who love each other depend on this: that one uses a word in a given way and the other means it in another, and believes that the other feels what he believes. One would speak of a certain commedia verus, but it is not a comedy but a drama, because it is a continuous misunderstanding. This note in human relationships is a continuous misunderstanding, and not only for love, but for so many other things. Take politics: it is a continuous misunderstanding because the same term is used in a different sense. The word democracy . . .
Today I will speak first of all about the sources of communications that come to us. They are innumerable, beginning with the external world, but it is difficult to distinguish what is external from what is subtle, because they interpenetrate. However, from the levels of the physical plane including the etheric plane — the etheric subplanes —there are communications coming to us from the so-called external world, from the cosmos.
Now these communications are admitted by science itself; as you know, now there are those big non-optical telescopes — I don’t know what they call them — there is now one even in Italy, near Bologna, which is the largest in the world, to pick up waves, cosmic vibrations. And even scientists themselves think that messages may be coming from the cosmos, from planets, from stars; so now it is admitted even by science itself that impressions are coming all the time. Whether these are intelligent messages or not we still don’t know scientifically, we believe that there may be. So basically, since the centers of emission are practically infinite, according to the number of stars, galaxies, etc., our planet is continuously being subjected […] and all of us who are its cells and organs are receptive to these impressions. Now I am always talking about the physical plane.
We then have impressions that come to us from nature, that is, from the three kingdoms — mineral, vegetable and animal — and they are much greater than is generally believed. There are some people who have a special sensitivity who pick them up. Then there are communications from the human world. I will talk about these later separately, they are the ones that most directly affect us, interest us, both for [. . . ] in addition to being receivers we can be transmitters. All these fall under what we can call “horizontal” transmissions, that is, they take place in the space of the physical plane.
Then there are all the “vertical” transmissions; that is, which come vertically, so to speak —these are metaphors that are used to make our point — from the subtle, psycho-spiritual levels; from the emotional or astral plane, and these are very strong and very disturbing; from the mental level; and from the spiritual levels, especially from the intuitive level.
This is but an outline in which we can frame what I will say when I talk about more specific communications. I will now go on to talk about the various kinds of communications, the various types of communications.
The first, which may perhaps be surprising at first but not afterwards, are the communications within ourselves, what is called “the internal dialogue.” If we look at what goes on within ourselves, there is a continuous dialogue within ourselves, there are various internal voices that take turns and often argue, quarrel with each other. These are what used to be called the contrasts between reason and feeling, impulse and duty, etc. Actually, in psychological terms, they are communications between various parts of ourselves, which are sometimes even subpersonalities. Thought itself, for example: when we think, there are like various voices that present various alternatives, various [ . . . ] that we have to consider. Besides [. . . ] that the word “thinking” comes from “weighing.”
Now then, modern psychology has brought to light the fact that there are communications between consciousness and the unconscious. From the unconscious come messages all the time, certainly in symbolic form, either in dreams or in symbols that present themselves to consciousness, or even directly. And on the other hand, the conscious is constantly trying to communicate with the unconscious, giving orders, suggestions, and then the unconscious sometimes obeys, often not, but still it is communication. And there are for some people communications from the superconscious, and even those that come from the soul, from the spiritual Self. These are the higher messages to which we often do not pay heed, many out of disbelief, and even we who believe in them many times disregard them out of distraction; that is, we are attracted to other voices, other messages, other cares and concerns, while we should be cultivating “the inner ear,” cultivating attention and sensitivity to these communications from above.
And then there are all the communications that come from the inner planes, from other sources, from Beings, from groups, from thought currents of various levels. There are lower ones, that come from what is called the collective unconscious, from waves of fanaticism, waves of fear, as happened in the year 1,000, when people feared the end of the world. It is these currents that invade these false communications: there are many communications that are really false.
Instead we will have to use a lot of discrimination, a lot of selectivity, that is, to distinguish, to discern communications of a lower character — even those that are not false but insignificant or even harmful — from those that come from higher levels. A good way is to always address the soul, the Higher Self of the people with whom we come in contact, whether in presence, or even as psychic relationship, thought contact, or soul contact. That is, always addressing the soul of the other person, not ignoring the personality with all its flaws and limitations, but soul to soul, addressing the best part of the other person, and when we try to communicate or communicate, this part also responds, it corresponds. And that’s why I recommended the use of the word Namaskar, which you all know, which means “I pay homage;” now this homage is not addressed to the other’s personality, but to the soul, to its best and truest Self. Now, if you say it not as a customary greeting, but with the intention, with the awareness of the meaning, this represents a call, it is establishing a communication with the part of the other that truly deserves homage.
I will take this up again and talk about it more specifically in the technique of telepathic communications. Now I will just say that every irradiation from us is a communication. And here the analogy with transmitting stations is very suggestive. There are the usual transmitters, of radio, of television that are in all directions: they are not oriented in a given direction, and then it may happen that one tunes in to that wavelength. Whereas there are the beam transmissions that are only aimed in one direction, and only receivers that are in that direction can pick them up. The similarities are obvious.
I repeat that it is not a matter of developing sensitivity — we all have far more than we need, often too much of it — but rather of developing the selectivity, discrimination and alertness that allows one to notice when a communication arrives, its nature, its level, without worrying too much about the precise source. It is not necessary to know precisely the origin, that is, I would say the [. . . ] of the transmitting station; what matters is the quality of the transmission. If this is true, whoever sends it it is welcome and can be beneficial; if it is false, whoever sends it should be exposed.
It is also easier to make this discrimination, that is, to understand the nature of the transmission, than to trace its origin; and thus the danger of believing something by authority is also avoided. For even the message of a higher Intelligence, of a Master, can be misunderstood, not because of the Master certainly, but because of us; that is, of our receiving organs.
Now let us look at the various specific types of communication, that is, rather the various means. The first one is verbal communication, the one I am doing right now, is speech, the spoken word. And here I repeat the warning given last times, that people often think they understand other people’s words, when in fact they do not understand them; that is, they are understood in a sense quite different from the one given by the person speaking. Certainly I am talking about when a person is in good faith and tries to make it clear what he really wants to say, and I am not talking about all the cases of those who use the word to betray the thought, to give it away, let alone this aspect, which we see for example in political speeches . . . but even among people in the utmost good faith there are continuous misunderstandings. Now the spoken word has acquired an extension, an immensely greater power than in the past by means of radio and television, and therefore the power of transmission of speech is enhanced immensely. Another way is this: of the tape recorder, it is always the spoken word that is recorded and then it can be transcribed and sent far away, and then it can be multiplied from tape to tape. So you see how the spoken word has now acquired tremendous power.
Then there is the written word, which has both inferiorities and superiorities in the efficacy of transmission compared with the spoken word. The spoken word has greater immediate, direct efficacy for two reasons: first because of the very presence of the transmitter who, in addition to the word, radiates himself; radiates, emanates something. Sometimes there are some people who do not intellectually understand what is being said, or perhaps they understand it poorly, but they still feel the influence of the speaker. Then the spoken word is associated with the other category of communication that I will talk about in a moment; that is, nonverbal communication; that is, all the movements that accompany speaking, first of all gestures, especially facial gestures, but also the irradiation of the eye, the movements of the hands. Many speakers can be said to speak much more with their hands than with their mouth. So all this increases the effectiveness and transmissibility of the spoken word.
But until recently this word ended there, and it is very easy to forget what one has heard, even if at the moment it was of great interest; but worse than forgetting is believing that one remembers, but instead remembering inaccurately, wrongly. I have experienced this myself, of not knowing how to repeat what one hears in a speech or a sermon; then one goes home and someone asks, “What did the speaker say?” Well one fumbles, one can’t repeat it, one can’t remember; or one says the secondary things but not the main thing. So the spoken word had in the past the drawback of transience over time. Now this has been remedied with recordings; but even on radio or television very often what is heard is not said at that time but was recorded when the speaker was speaking in a studio and is broadcast afterwards in its own time and place.
The written word lacks these aids, these additions I mentioned of the spoken word, but it has the great advantage of permanence. We now read Plato, we have texts even older than the Vedas that go back thousands of years and came from other continents; so the written word has great permanence, great for us in relation to our concept of time, but short across millennia and continents. Then came the printing press that multiplied the ease of these communications, and now we have come to microfilms that reproduce whole libraries on microfilm in a very small space, and the libraries of the future will all be on microfilm, which then can be read easily with certain devices. So the word has great means of communication.
Then, as I said, there are nonverbal means of communication. Besides those that accompany speech, there are body movements, especially dance — I am not talking about modern — but ballet: communicative, expressive dance, which often has greater communicative effectiveness than speech. It is a medium that was almost abandoned, neglected, but is now making a comeback. The sacred dances of the past, the ceremonies with ritual movements, apart from the actual dance, all the ritual mimicry of the various rites, including that of the Mass, and in other rites, are truly communicative.
Another category of nonverbal communication is imagery. As I have quoted other times, a Chinese proverb says “a picture is worth more than a thousand words.” Images have a special suggestive, communicative effectiveness. And here again, in modern life, the power of images has been multiplied, in extension if not in intensity. Certainly the mechanical color reproduction of images is admirable, and hundreds of thousands of copies are multiplied. Whereas previously in order to see the Mona Lisa or another famous painting one had to go in person to see them, now one has images of them that truly have the same psychological effectiveness as the original. Then there is television, in which spoken word and images are associated and connected. Finally the powerful power, the communicative power of sound, of music. There would be so much to say, but I am only giving an overview.
Many of these nonverbal communications are symbolic; that is, certain images, signs, and movements have a conventional meaning. The simplest, most basic case is red and green traffic lights. When you see green it means you can pass, when there is a red signal you stop. It is a nonverbal, symbolic, conventional communication. And so all traffic signs are symbolic communications. The same is true for certain physical movements that have symbolic, conventional, ritual meaning.
The subject of symbols also would require extensive discussion, but it is beyond the limits of this exposition. So the means of communication are varied, they are in a sense easy, widespread; there is an embarrassment of choice. The serious problems, on the other hand, are in making yourself understood; that is, making sure that what you convey is understood. Here again there is a physical example: color blindness, as you know, is a vision defect of people who do not distinguish red from green. Now you understand how important it is to ascertain whether one is color-blind or not, for there may be trouble if a color-blind person drives a car. This is easy, they notice more or less readily; sometimes one even risks his life, but generally they notice.
But psychological color blindness is much less easily recognized, it is more insidious. Within certain limits we are all color blind, not for everything but for certain things. I can say I am “color-blind” for mathematics — if I hear the exposition of something in higher mathematics for me it is Chinese. That is specific color blindness and others may be color blind for other things. Then there are certain people who don’t understand anything in general. So noticing our color blindness and/or giving [something] up, as I gave up on higher mathematics [can be good] — I trust Einstein. He said he thought there were about ten people in the world who understood his theory of relativity, so we are in good company.
So the first problem is to understand and be understood. To be understood there is an easy method, only we don’t usually use it. It is to have people repeat [back what they have heard]. Now some schools do it, they have people who have heard something repeat it, and then you can tell whether they have understood or not. But in life we don’t take care to do that, and then misunderstandings happen. One thinks the other has understood, the other thinks he has understood and answers, and the one thinks he understands the answer; instead one does not understand because the other starts from another point of view, and so on. To use a Shakespearean expression, it can be called the “comedy of errors,” but it is often a drama.
Z.: I was thinking of Helen Keller, who was deaf, mute, and blind.
R.A.: Yes, she understood more than many with fine hearing.
Z.: But how did they begin to make her understand? After once it started it went on, but how did they start?
R.A.: It’s about making ourselves understood and seeing whether we have understood. As for understanding others, there are several reasons why we don’t understand. The first is because we do not listen. We thinks we are listening; we hear but do not listen; we hear the sounds and words, but in ourselves we are so busy with what we are about to say, what we mean, that we do not listen at all to what is being said. With some sincere introspection I think we all realize this. So the art of listening is essential for good communication. Listening — if you listen well, you understand what you didn’t get by not listening, up to a point.
The second point is to realize when we have not understood. This is important. Even if we listen carefully and we think you have understood, that can immediately be the misunderstanding. But there are cases, such as in mathematics, where it is not difficult to see that we have not understood. But on the other hand, in other more accessible fields very often we don’t realize that you haven’t understood. And then even there it would take the patience to repeat to the other person, “Did you mean this and that? Do you mean this, or do you mean that?”
And then, with a frank explanation, we can come to understand each other. Of course these are elementary things, but we don’t do them. Yet they has great importance in life. So I conclude for tonight, that given the immense spread of communications, we are constantly bombarded with communications, and each one of us often talks too much anyway, without having thought beforehand and having bothered to have thought clearly. So the problem is much greater now, that of making ourselves understood and understood well.
The next point, after talking about the various types of communication, various models, etc., is: what to communicate? It is about seeing what we can communicate. But I will start with the opposite: what is not appropriate to communicate? Because avoiding unnecessary and harmful communication is just as important as communicating positive and constructive things. In fact, to do the latter we need to eliminate the former.
As I have already mentioned, a huge mass of things are currently being communicated that would certainly not be worth communicating. First of all, an immense amount of useless things, which have no use, which we say simply to gratify curiosity, the desire for emotions, sensations, etc. Then negative, harmful things, everything that is pessimistic, bitter, combative, destructive should be eliminated. Especially criticizing others, and reporting negative things about others. Gossip — as the newspapers often do — and personal things, all the reporting. Here again there is huge abuse, and we should be very firmly and very strictly vigilant about this: never say anything negative about others, and also about life, about the world. If we have any of these negative motions in us — and we all have them, we are not angels — hold them back, and don’t dump them on others. There is an effective and witty English expression, “to consume one’s own smoke.” And this is a very topical outdoor analogy: “smog,” the noxious fumes from chimneys and cars that just poison the air.
But just as much and worse happens in the psychic atmosphere. The psychic atmosphere around us, especially in cities, but in general in the world, is impregnated with psychic poisons emanating individually and collectively. Each person can be likened to an automobile emitting the products of its combustion, and [the emission of ] each group and community can be likened to the fumes emanating from the smokestacks of large factories. Therefore, “consume your own smoke;” do not exhale psychological poisons into the psychic world. You see that non-communication takes on very vivid aspects. This then hurts ourselves as well, because then we also breathe in, as we exhale these poisons we breathe in our own and others’ poisons, and then karmically it falls back on us. The karmic law, the law of cause and effect, always operates as the boomerang (the Australian weapon) operates, it is a bow that thrown in a given way reaches the target and then returns to the person who threw it. Now Australians are adept at preventing it from hitting them; rather it falls at their feet; but generally psychic boomerangs hit ourselves. So there is every reason and every duty to avoid undue communication.
This then on the spiritual path is an even greater requirement. One is responsible for anything negative [that one emits], and this creates an obstacle to further progress. Until a disciple has learned to “keep silent” in this sense, he is not allowed [to go] any further. Then, still on the spiritual path, there is another, more subtle type of non-communication: Silence. Not giving premature information for which people are not prepared. And this is one of the cornerstones of esotericism. Esotericism means not only, to use the energetic expression of the Gospel, “not to throw pearls to swine,” but precisely not to give out things that may be dangerous, just as one does not allow children into a chemistry lab. Again, this is a clear analogy: who would think of opening the doors of a chemistry lab to children, letting them run around among the stills, among the test tubes, etc.? So what may be premature and dangerous to others must be kept silent. And to a lesser degree, I would say even esoterically, don’t talk to people about things that they cannot understand, that are beyond their comprehension. Here again there is an effective English expression, “not to speak over their heads.”
Then also to be silent — here it is a bit more complex — so as not to give out information that can be misinterpreted and misused. Here, however, one must not be absolute. So many times one is not sure whether information is given wrongly or not; whether the time has come for mankind to know certain things, to acquire certain powers, even though at first they may misuse them. And this is the great problem faced by the Great Beings in regulating subsequent revelations, and to a lesser degree, we too — each of us. Here sometimes you have to take what the Tibetan calls “a calculated risk;” calculate the risk that may be there, the pros and cons, and sometimes even dare, but always after mature reflection, after thinking well.
So these are all reasons not to communicate many things. Besides that, silence has a positive value, as you know. At present, it can be said that there is no silence, neither physical, nor psychological, nor spiritual: there is external noise and the internal noise of all the voices within us. Now the external noise can be escaped by going to the countryside, but the internal noise cannot be escaped by external means because it is within us. All this work, these voices, these recordings of impressions, our emotional and mental reactions, create a continuous emotional and mental din. So we should make silence within ourselves; that is, disconnect from communication, not receive, close ourselves to all these things. And, if we don’t close ourselves off, we may pay no attention to it, so that it becomes like a buzz, like the noise you hear from the street, but you can succeed in concentrating without being interested in it. We can dis-interest ourselves in the psychological noise that comes to us from outside, and also that comes spontaneously into us from our unconscious. It is already quite a lot to be able to ignore it, because achieving full silence is very difficult to do; but to leave the noise out on the periphery, like a halo on the periphery of consciousness, and instead focus on what you want to perceive and communicate, that is already enough.
Finally, as I mentioned, such silence is a condition for being able to receive — even to receive a conversation. I said that the art of knowing how to listen is difficult, because while one is speaking there is immediately something in us responding or thinking about what he will say in response, and then one does not quite understand what the speaker is saying. So first listen patiently even if there are things said that are contrary to our beliefs, or that arouse activity [. . .]. So the art of listening. These are all conditions of the art of communication.
Let us now look at the positive aspect. What is actively communicating? It is one of the stages of what the Buddha called “The Noble Eightfold Path:” righteous speech, righteous in the deepest sense: right, accurate, corresponding to truth, but also appropriate, suitable to the moment, for the purpose and for the type of listener. Therefore, before we communicate, we need to think hard and choose well what we want to communicate, what is appropriate to communicate. And then our communications will decrease a lot in quantity, in volume, but they will acquire much greater quality, much greater effectiveness. These are simple, clear things, but how difficult it is to put them into practice!
If only we would watch over ourselves twelve hours from morning to night — and we should — we would establish this continuous alertness concerning what we communicate and what is communicated to us. I invite us to do that. This is yoga, a real yoga. It is part of Raja-Yoga, the mastery of the mind. Just ask the question, “What do I propose to communicate and what do I propose not to communicate?” And in the evening do some examination in this regard. As for what we can and should communicate, basically it is much easier than not communicating. It is clear what things are good, constructive, appropriate: simply the opposite of what we usually say. But there is something — always words of suitable optimism, of confidence, of hope, of [. . .] always thinking about what I talked about last year, the inevitable final triumph of good.
This is the stable point, the unshakable foundation in which we stand. There is an evolutionary Plan, there is a plan of God, there is a providential plan; and this plan, in spite of all the obstacles put in our way by men, will eventually triumph. Good is more powerful than evil; the Will of God is more powerful than the small wills of men. Therefore on this basis we can always affirm and say words of faith, of confidence, of spiritual optimism; not external optimism, but spiritual optimism. To be radiating centers of that; this is to be a counterpoise to all the negative things that are said, that are emitted in the psychic atmosphere.
And this often has two effects: many people are attracted to [this negative psychic atmosphere]; after all, there is a part of them that is thirsty for such things, and as soon as they are handed a glass of water they drink it greedily. But, curious to say, there are others whom this irritates. This I have noticed. There are some people who [. . .] It would take some detailed psychoanalysis here to discover the various causes of this. One of the main ones is self-pity, which brings unhealthy satisfactions that many people are attached to. If you take away their reason for trying to pity themselves and arouse the pity of others, they rebel. Another is the gratification of the dramatic, the terrible, of strong emotions, which is borne out by the fact of the editorials, the trials, the murders that newspapers generously offer, as well as so many movies and novels — precisely the pursuit of the horrific, the gruesome, the violent from crime novels, etc. Now all this is morbid, but it explains why when we speak in the opposite direction there are those who don’t want to know about it. They get satisfaction from it; they get wrapped up in that atmosphere; they are looking for the strong emotions.
While ordinary, current, flat, mechanical, cold life gives no outlet to have and express strong, living feelings, then in such cases it is necessary to appeal to the higher feelings, not only to give teachings, to explain, to make people understand; but precisely to appeal to emotions as well, but in a higher sense. Not all emotions are to be condemned: it is a matter of arousing enthusiasm, love, interest, even playfulness; in short to awaken feelings, to give way for the emotional and sentimental side to have its positive or at least harmless expression, because if not people fall back into the negative one, as happens all the time.
Even saying positive, optimistic things takes some restraint — saying them appropriately so as not to provoke these contrary reactions. One way is this: allow a person to vent abundantly, even smugly, without contradicting him, let him discharge the bulk of the emotions that clutter his psyche. After he has done this, then a crack can be found to let something positive in. Have the patience to let it blow out its smoke. After all, in psychotherapy one of the norms is just that: let a person vent, allow the vent. If a person is full of all that, it is useless to say something positive to him, he does not receive it — there is no room, and he reacts. If, on the other hand, he allows himself to vent, then there is room. So many times in a psychotherapy session for 40 or 50 minutes you have to let it all out, and then for 5 or 10 minutes say something, sow a seed that will later bear fruit; and that is the positive part of the session, but the opposite has to happen first. So take that into account in human relationships as well.
Question: Who was that Greek master who in his dealings with his students pretended that they were always right, and then afterwards he brought the arguments, never contradicted them, brought the witticisms so that . . .
R.A. Exactly, it’s this same principle, you have to remember that. One variety of this type that takes pleasure in the negative is the person who has the Cassandra complex; that is, predicting catastrophic things. Some of it is this is the satisfaction of emotion, but some of it is also a defensive reaction. They fear so many things that they think the worst, so that what happens is always less than what they had expected. Then some times, even if the bad thing that they had anticipated happens, they almost have a sense of relief. This is called the “Cassandra complex.” You see how the art of communication is complex.
Apart from these positive communications, in a more precise way it is now a matter of spreading information about the New Era, about the worldwide renewal that is taking place, and making known all the positive signs of renewal, both for the youth and in various movements. Even though the newspapers accentuate the negative side, try to gather information about what good is happening in the world and talk about it. That also has an effectiveness, because that is not a subject of arguments, of viewpoints, of blind optimism that you are often accused of: it is facts. For example spread a lot the facts that are highlighted by the goodness awards, the Motta one; and there are various others: there are magnificent examples of humble, quiet people, of kids of all ages doing beautiful things. Now make them known, tell about them like that; because for every one criminal there are a hundred thousand people doing good things, but that doesn’t make the news, as journalists cynically say. Now it starts to make some news, but always through something [. . . ] and these should be multiplied. And then [one can take] so many other good things that the newspaper puts in three lines or ten lines, and get more information and then spread it. And especially in the sense of the New Era, in the sense of this new civilization, new culture that is being laboriously worked out in the ruins of the old one. So you see what a task we have in communicating.
I would like to say a few more words about the more esoteric aspect of communication, that is, that which precedes and communicates inspirations from above. This is vertical telepathy. I will only tell you about this today, which is mediation, the positive aspect of what mediumship is in the negative sense. The [psychic] medium is passive, like a wind harp that receives all kinds of things without discriminating. They, too, may have their function to open some to mystery; but instead, this mediating action between the higher worlds and the ordinary worlds is of great importance. Suffice it to say that the mediator, the greatest communicator is Christ Himself. It is said that His function is as Mediator, He is the Mediator between man and God, He is the Mediator between humanity and the higher worlds of the great Reality. Now our highest and most useful cooperation is to be co-operators with Christ in this work of mediation. To cooperate in conveying what He conveys, and all that is part of His message past and present, to feel the value, the dignity of this work of ours as co-workers with the Christ, as participants in the mediation work He is doing.
Part 5 (a Revision)
As you know, the year 1965 was dedicated to International Cooperation, following a proposal made by Nehru to the United Nations, a proposal that was unanimously accepted. So all over the world, during the coming year, efforts will be made to promote international cooperation in all ways and in all fields.
Let us see what we, individually and as a group, can, indeed must do; for spiritualists should also be in the vanguard in this.
One thing that many people do not realize is that in order to cooperate effectively and harmoniously, there must be communication, an exchange between those who cooperate, and then with those to whom one wants to “communicate.” So there arises, as a preliminary problem, that of ways of communicating.
At present, the material means of communication are immense; this is not the problem. The problem is to communicate well, since erroneous, badly expressed or biased communications are unfortunately much more widespread than good ones. To communicate well, one must understand oneself; only such understanding produces right relations among cooperators and among those toward whom they carry out an action. Cooperation produces something new, so it is creative. Creation renews what existed; it renews the old. So the next stages are: communication, understanding, right relationships, cooperation, creation and renewal. About each of these stages there is much to be said, and especially to be done. Not all kinds of cooperation are good and right; people with bad intentions and lower motives also cooperate with each other.
Let us see our tasks in this field. The first thing for us is the kind of cooperation; that is, what to cooperate in. Many cooperate, either to maintain what exists, based on the interests created, or to create new things but which have no real value, or secondary value. Our purpose, our goal, is cooperation for world renewal; that is, to cooperate in the advent of a new planetary era. So it is a vast but well-defined field; that is, we aim, in doing our part in international cooperation, for world renewal.
There are immense fields, great initiatives for cooperation, such as those promoted by the United Nations, and one might think that what we can do is insignificant in the face of them. Actually this is not so: first of all, there is nothing insignificant (an ocean is made up of countless drops); but we as the Meditation Group can do something qualitatively different and that is of special value. Our task is to act in and from the subtle planes. External cooperation is done in a technical, material way; but this also has an internal source, that is, at least a mental source; one has to make programs, plans, plans, and all this is a mental activity that then translates into external action.
We can go even higher and more “inward,” so to speak. Starting not from the concrete mental level, from merely rational activity, albeit humanitarian and with good motives, but from higher levels. In them action has extraordinary power, much greater than in concrete or personal levels. Therefore, action carried out even by a few and by relatively small groups can be highly effective, for by setting in motion spiritual currents, constructive ideas can be inspired, injected — and even expressed in speech and writings — ideas, principles, directives, which are then grasped by those who work mentally and who translate them into far-reaching external activities. From a small seed can grow a big tree. Therefore, our task is to act on causes, principles, motives, directions.
Beyond that, we can inform ourselves and inform others about everything that is being done in the field of international cooperation. This is much, much more than is routinely known, because the newspapers speak little about it; it is believed that this does not interest the readers enough, whereas it would be of great interest if it were emphasized, highlighted and “dramatized,; that is, exposed vividly and “hotly.” There are, however, publications in this field, and it is good for us to be aware of them, and to spread as much knowledge as possible of what is already being done and what can be done later.
The third point we would like to accentuate is this: the year of international cooperation is not an end in itself. It must mark the beginning, the impetus for cooperation that must continue along the following years, and in a sense never cease. The task is to create a new era, a new civilization, a new culture, through renewal in all fields. Therefore, the year 1965 must be a starting point, the beginning of a new cycle.
 This sentence appears as given in Buber’s From Man to Man, translated by Ronald Gregor Smith, London, Kegan Paul, 1947, 203. Subsequent quotes are from different portions of Buber’s writings and have not been located, therefore the language given is my translation of Assagioli’s rendition of Buber rather than from the original German or from a published English translation. Buber’s language is notoriously difficult to translate, so I beg the reader’s indulgence in this “double translation” and send you to Buber for what clarification is possible. —Tr.
 Originally attributed to the philosopher Epimenides (c.600 BC) of Knossos, Crete, this was a logical puzzle that has been referred to by philosophers down to the 20th century. Logicians use it to explore the “paradox of self-reference.”—Tr.
 The Italian word “sbagliato” is variously translated as “wrong,””mistaken,” “erroneous,” or “false.” Generally (but not always!) Roberto Assagioli used terms that tended to be gentle or kind rather than harsh. But is helpful to know the connotations in English of the word he has chosen here, which we translate as “mistaken.” —Tr.
 Latin: “true comedy.” —Tr.
 The etheric plane is a term introduced into Theosophy to represent the subtle part of the lower plane of existence. It represents the fourth [higher] subplane of the physical plane (a hyperplane), the lower three being the states of solid, liquid, and gaseous matter. The idea was later used by authors such as Alice Bailey and Assagioli. —Tr.
 As of this writing there are telescopes to detect gamma rays, infrared and ultraviolet rays, radio waves, x-rays, and submillimeter vibrations. —Tr.
 This statement applies only to the Italian words pensare for thinking, derived from pesare for weighing. —Tr.
 Note: this talk was transcribed from a recording! —Tr.
 After Shakespeare’s play of that name. —Tr.
 from Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero Worship, and the Heroic in History. The complete quote is, “The suffering man ought really to consume his own smoke; there is no good in emitting smoke till you have made it into fire.”—Tr.
 The Assagioli Archives mention prizes given by the Motta Foundation. —Tr.
 Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), first prime minister of independent India (1950-1964).