Volume 6 · Number 2 · Pages 190–192
The Generous Listener

Christiane M. Herr

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Context: Conversation theory and second order cybernetics both imply that conversation does not entail a transfer of meaning, but a construction of meaning by both of the conversation partners. Problem: This evokes the question of the conditions that may support or enable this construction of understanding. Method: Through recounting a conversation with Ernst von Glasersfeld I identify generosity and flexibility as a basic condition and format of conversational exchanges. I employ linguistic communication across language barriers as well as making music together as illustrative examples. Results: Generosity seems a key ingredient for enabling conversations as well as a personal skill or talent. Bridging the gaps in communication that result from differences in personal experiential worlds is only possible through goodwill enacted in the listener’s direction of his own imagination. This paper extends and connects radical constructivist notions of constraints and experience, as introduced by von Glasersfeld, with Glanville’s description of the role of generosity in conversation and Wittgenstein’s notion of the “Vorstellungsklavier.” Implications: Generosity can be characterized as the ability to move from communicating to appreciating and accommodating the other in conversations. The implications I draw are limited to the scope of my personal reflections and experiences.

Key words: listening, generosity, conversation, experience, constraints, Vorstellungsklavier


Herr C. M. (2011) The generous listener. Constructivist Foundations 6(2): 190–192. http://constructivist.info/6/2/190

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