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MIRROR MIRROR


The 18th century French satirist Voltaire was known to isolate himself from his contemporaries, in order that close association with his fellow men and women would not interfere with his thoughts. The author of The Philosophical Dictionary was by all definitions an original thinker. There has never been anyone else like him, anywhere in the world, before or since. Apparently he was aware of his originality, which he guarded ever so jealously lest it become tainted by common notions tritely expressed.

Recently researchers have proven the truth of what this precious little man knew by intuition. Leave it to science to study what for most people is common sense, and to do so 200 years after the fact, and at the expense of taxpayer dollars I'm sure!

It has long been known that humans are social creatures, and as such we mimic each other's posture, laughter and other behaviors, including how we speak. The study, published in the periodical Language Variation and Change, shows that people with similar views tend to more closely mirror, or align, each other's speech patterns. And if in conversation you share views with the speaker, you alter your speech to more closely match the sentence pattern she uses with you.

The linguists note that people tend to align speech patterns to facilitate communication; that it is through mimicry that sounds, words and sentence structures become more predictable, making it easier to understand each other. And that speaking in a way similar to others serves as a subtle means of influencing liking, trust and other interpersonal emotions.

But does the mimicry end once the conversation is over, or do you become like a parrot repeating the views and notions so recently shared? And does the mimicry spill over to other areas of your life, such as how you dress and what hairstyle you wear? Are we all just unconscious copycats? Why else do friends end up resembling each other so much as to be mistaken for siblings, or coworkers all look as though they shop at the same retail outlet? Do you think all valley girls sprang from the womb saying "like," "whatever" and "way? And did these frat boys coordinate their outfits, or were Bermuda shorts and bow ties merely an unfortunate coincidence? (Thanks Maher!)


I'm not saying to shut yourself up in your room like I do, only that you be aware of the dynamics at work, both at work and when you play. Take great care not to merge your mind with the minds of the many in your midst. It's a recipe for triviality. I'm sure you've heard that opinions are like assholes: everyone has one, and most of them stink. Though to the holder, one's cherished view smells like roses to be sure.

Merely take that millisecond to think before you speak, and listen to what is said. Watch what goes on, in your mind, out your mouth, and around you. Take pride in being one of a kind. In this carbon copy world of ours, originality is at a premium. Don't lose yours merely in order to fit in. Voltaire blazed the trail centuries ago and science still lights the way, so we say SHINE ON!

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