nonverbal communication across species/when tone becomes weaponized

In my recent adventures with non-human people, I have become a firm believer that if I find ways to ask what people need in ways that are understandable to them, they will tell me. Human or otherwise.

I’m going to start off this channel by talking about my cats, Pico, and Sisi – and my parents’ dog, Trinity (since I already talked about Sarge the Macaw some in one of my videos).

When Pico was a kitten, I took him inside a store to pick out his own bed. The friend that I was with thought that was weird, and even for me, at that point, it was more a whim than anything else…

But we were both astonished at how clearly he indicated preferences.

I took one of each different shape and placed them all along a row on top of a table in the store. I held him up in front of each for a moment. Some, he barely even gave a sniff to.

Some, he sniffed more eagerly…
And one, he jumped right into and didn’t even want to get back out of. I carried it with me through the checkout line with him inside.

Trinity – her tail is a complete read of her emotional state. Ears too, but tail is the most obvious. She had been having pain in her feet recently, and she’d follow me outside with her tail up, but then stop right past the door with it down. She wanted to come for a walk, wanted to be good, wanted to do what I wanted her to, but it hurt her. So if I asked if she wanted to go back inside, my tone making it clear I was asking a question, and walked towards the door at the same time – even though she doesn’t actually speak English, her tail would go up and she’d bound a few steps towards the door.

One time I saw her wander towards a faucet, glance around, then walk back towards me. She never looked at me or said anything, but when I walked over there and turned it on, her appreciation was palpable.

Dogs and cats and parrots, at the very least, are not used to human people asking what they would like to do or to how they would like to live.

They are used to being told what they have to like.

Little eight week old Sisi, I took with my mom and I on a walk today. She still needs me to be around all the time, I don’t think she’s ready to be left alone.

So I carried her, and she started meowing. I tried holding her in different positions, but it became clear pretty quickly that she probably just isn’t comfortable being carried for that long.

She had not had much human interaction before I took her in, methinks.

So I told my mom to go ahead, that I was going to let her down for a bit.

When I did, she immediately bounded towards my feet. So I walked a few steps, carefully watching her. She beelined for my shoes.

So I kept walking.

And so did she.

She may not be used to being carried, but she sure knows how to follow her mom and not get lost.

It was not being in a new place she didn’t like, she just wanted to be able to follow me.

She walked most of the trail next to my feet!

I had to be very careful, because she’s not very good at stopping before she hits my feet, and I think this was a little far for her… But we stopped for her to say hello to a couple people walking who exclaimed that they’d never seen a cat going for a walk before.

If cats have survived even when outside of human homes for this long, that means they don’t need to be in one place always. They just need a mom around when they’re someplace new, and if it’s time to follow mom, they will.

(I am not suggesting anyone else actually try this unless you are very confident you will not lose or hurt your kitty friend! This was on a trail that was clearly marked, with very few other people on it, and I had my eye on her constantly. Soon as we got home, I made sure she ate, and offered her water, and then laid down in bed for her to sleep on my chest. Which she crawled up to do immediately, purring.)

 

I have also been thinking quite a bit about nonverbal communication more generally than with my four legged friends.

Have any of you ever had the experience of seeing someone angry, knowing it’s not because of anything you did, but still feeling… Something, in response to it?

Thinking back on my own past, and observations I’ve made since I’ve started paying attention to my own responses to things like that, I feel like lots of things can happen as a result of that…

Dismissal. That’s a pretty big one, especially if it’s a stranger, just someone I’ve seen yelling on the street or screaming at someone at the DMV or something.

Defensiveness.

That’s more common, I feel like, with people I’ve known personally. Even if I know I didn’t do anything to cause their situation, or maybe especially so.

No matter what, it’s taken quite a bit of practice, involving a lot of doing the wrong things and making wrong assumptions, to get to where I feel like I’m more resilient, generally, in the face of anger.

 

People frequently, I feel like, have a tendency to use tone as a weapon. Seemingly unknowingly.

Frequently seem to become angrier if they are asked if they are mad, or upset.

Maybe irritated is a better word than angry, or perhaps exasperated.

But, and I am including my own mistakes in this as well – I kind of feel like our brains just automatically do some things when things like anger are perceived in others.

Even when I tell someone with my words that they are not the cause of my negativity, whether it’s manifesting in the form of stress, anxiety, anger, or whatever – it nevertheless has an effect.

I’m not sure that’s something we can prevent from happening.

Other than by gaining more awareness of our nonverbal communications and how they are being perceived by those around us, that is.

 


 

[Original posting date: May 8, 2020]

Relevant:

Pico’s pupils dilate when I make a scared/surprised face, as when we’re playing hide and seek.

Since it seems there are automatic, physiological responses to facial expressions across species lines, it feels to me like the potential impact of our tone/body language/etc on other human being is vastly underrated in our day to day lives.

Or is that just my own narrow experience of things, and inaccurate compared to your own?

brooke

I spent three years living on the street in Los Angeles. I came out of that, changed. This is my story.

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