Disconnection from The 5 Love Languages

I took part in a meeting recently. Some 25 people attended, and I was the new kid on the block. The meeting revolved around how we feel connected to each other and what being connected means.

When behavioral ethologists and sociolinguists read the above line their hearts skip beats and their minds race. They know we’re doing in-group and out-group studies.

At one point I asked, “So what is one thing we can do to demonstrate authentic connection to someone? One real thing.” Someone responded with “Listen first, listen all ways, always Joseph,” and folks agreed with that sentiment.

I agree as well, in principle. I also find it nebulous. Okay, listen, first and foremost.

But listen to what, exactly? I was born blind and learned early to isolate sounds in my environment. Wife/partner/Princess Susan laughs when I can quote conversations going on two or more tables away in busy restaurants, my ability to recognize which wildlife is walking through our backyard by their sound, and non-musical friends delight in my ability to repeat the sound of a single instrument in an orchestral performance. I listen differently from most, definitely from those in the sighted world (even though I now have 20-20 vision due to multiple surgeries).

So “listen first, listen always”? Of course. And to what? And how?

Someone added to the conversation with “Thinking of 5 love languages.”

I asked “Listening implies the other is aware of both our attention and intention. What must be done to demonstrate positive attention and intention? How do we enter the other’s awareness in a way that first signals ‘I’m here for you’?” Signaling “I’m here for you” in a way it’s recognized and understood is that “one real thing” part. How do we let the other know they have our meaningful attention?

And the response was “Take a look at the Five Love Languages for different connections. You can love in the way not lovable by the other” and the conversation went down a “5 Love Languages” path for a while. And nobody asked if I, the newbie, knew what the Five Love Languages were, had heard of them, had any experience with them.

It was obvious others in the meeting did.

But, in a meeting about connecting with others, about how to listen, nobody offered anything along the lines of “…and here’s a link to the Five Love Languages for anyone not familiar with them.”

The meeting ended with several statements along the lines of “Loved this session of being together” and I left wondering if I was heard, connected. I go back to my “So what is one thing we can do to demonstrate authentic connection to someone? One real thing” question.

For me, it comes down to “Do you need help?” Not “What can I do to help?” because the latter is an assumption and the former admits my ignorance. From one I can learn, from the other I might insult. Which circles back to another statement I offered in conversation, “The first communication must be instructions on how to build a receiver.” To understand what is being communicated, we must become a receiver willing to hear the message being sent and accept it is correctly transmitted and accurate to the origin’s intent, which comes down to accepting the other as teacher regardless of their position or stage in life, and all of which is based on language acquisition studies.

In-Group, Out-Group, and the Oxytocin Solution

One quick way to create a cohesive in-group when you start with a bunch of people is to pump them full of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a marvelous neuropeptide and has many uses in our brains. One such use is to promote social bonding. Everything from choosing a mate to choosing a church to choosing a social cause to choosing a political party depends on oxytocin. It has other uses, but let’s focus on its ability to promote in-group bonding for a moment.

Get a group of like-minded people and you can almost smell the oxytocin flooding their neural blood supply and hear the pituitary pumping it out.

But this marvelous friend-making neuropeptide has a drawback: it mellows people out. A bunch of people cruising on oxytocin are more likely to sit around a fireplace sipping wine and listening to Joni Mitchell than creating a record company to promote her music.

People move (literally) from mellow appreciation of each other to group action when what authors call an “inciting event” occurs. You see this at lots of sporting events. The in-group is all the well-meaning, good-intentioned, wise, and loving people rooting for our team, the out-group is all those idiotic, doltish, foul-mouthed, ill-behaved louts rooting for the other team. The inciting event is somebody scoring or failing to score, something well-played or something poorly-played.

Here’s an experiment for you. Go to some largish sporting event (something above backyard and sandlot baseball. A high school football game will do) and wear “that” team’s colors while sitting with “this” team’s fans. Now “accidentally” trip and bruise your leg. Moan a bit and rub your leg. “This” team’s fans are less likely to help you simply because you’re wearing “that” team’s colors.

And on either team’s side, we know who we are because our oxytocin’s flowing.

Behavioral ethologists and sociolinguists watch oxytocin at work and ask, “What is the inciting event causing the in-group to take in a new member when, by definition, the new member must be from some out-group?”

To our conversation, what can the in-groupers do to let the out-grouper know they are heard, recognized, and welcome?

Mesolimbic Dopamine Arbitration

$25 phrase for a million dollar concept: Do we get excited about the reward or is knowing we’ll receive a reward enough?

Meso blah blah blah plays an important role in in-grouping and out-grouping, especially when in-groupers welcome an out-grouper into their group. In the real world, consider you’ve been nominated for some award. Is the nomination enough or is the award itself the payoff?

Not sure? Consider how many books have “Nominated for xyz,” how many authors have “tzq Prize Nominee,” how many movies have “hpm Prize Winner,” why do people smile when they’re told they’re shortlisted, and why was there a period where people received “Participation” awards for merely showing up? Remember, you’re only as good as those who showed up, so is participation enough?

I’ve received many awards in my time, had peer-reviewed papers published, been keynote and central speaker, and been a member of several “think tanks.” Lots of times I wondered how nominations and awards were determined. What qualifies me for such and such? I mean, what did I do? After all, I’m boring and dull. It even says so on my LinkedIn profile. Basically, what did I do that made the in-groupers decide this out-grouper should be allowed “in”? And in all things, is being nominated as good as receiving the award? It all depends on what you think of the in-group doing the nominating.

And it’s the mesolimbic dopamine arbitration systems in your brain doing the thinking.

Remember that.

Economic Biasing

Remember your meso blah blah blah especially when you recognize the economic benefits of being in-group and the economic detriments of being out-group. We’re more likely to do business, share, help, give, – take your pick of pro-active positive actions – with in-group members than with out-group members. People question in-group members far fewer times than out-group members when presented uncomfortable information. The former is perceived as a genuine concern, the latter as an affront or attack.

This shows up in writer critique groups and peer-reviewed publishing a lot. People often perceive out-group member critiques personally, as an attack on their value and worth rather than the work’s (even when the out-group member can help the author get published), and perceive in-group member critiques as helpful and educatory when the same information is presented.


Which brings us full circle to Disconnection from The 5 Love Languages. In-group members learn a jargon to solidify their in-group membership. They must to prove their value and worth to the in-group and the easiest recognition vector is language, and this includes ASL (American Sign Language), Singlish (Signed English), FSL (French Sign Language), Military Sign Signals, et cetera.

The benefit of jargons is they allow in-group members to immediately recognize each other, and each other’s station in the group. Listen to attorneys, doctors, professional athletes, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers talk amongst themselves and you’re left wondering what language they’re using.

The detriment of jargons is out-group members with valuable and often necessary information are ignored or dismissed because they don’t know the correct terms for what they want to share.

The same is true of unshared local knowledge. Two mechanics talk about changing the oil in a car and both know they’re talking about a 10-30w automotive oil, they don’t need to be explicit. The first day automotive student wants to help and fills the oil reservoir with transmission fluid or Marvel Mystery Oil with disastrous results.

Local knowledge, like jargon, must be shared and explained if we want to include out-group members in our circles of influence. If nothing else, such sharing allows out-group members to decide whether to join or not, or if they should reciprocate the offer to the benefit of all.


Joseph Carrabis
Joseph Carrabis
Joseph Carrabis has been everything from a long-haul trucker to a Chief Research Scientist and holds patents covering mathematics, anthropology, neuroscience, and linguistics. He served as Senior Research Fellow and Board Advisor to the Society for New Communications Research and The Annenberg Center for the Digital Future; Editorial Board Member on the Journal of Cultural Marketing Strategy; Advisory Board Member to the Center for Multicultural Science; Director of Predictive Analytics, Center for Adaptive Solutions; served on the UN/NYAS Scientists Without Borders program; and was selected as an International Ambassador for Psychological Science in 2010. He created a technology in his basement that's in use in over 120 countries. Now he spends his time writing fiction based on his experiences.

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  1. What a wonderful post and relatable, Joseph. I think anybody who have ever moved from anywhere to anywhere will recognize what you write about.

    Anybody who have ever entered a group and believed that all the other people were all good friends from way back because they spoke the same way. And I am just little ole me who knows nobody… And no, they were likely not friends from way back, and yes, little ole mes do get let in.

    It is difficult to name on whom the responsibility falls to speak up when we don’t understand something. Is it on me to ask or should others offer unprompted?
    We are, as a general rule, very poor at remembering or retaining beginners mind once we have learned something – and that includes remembering that not everybody has heard about the 5 love languages or intuitively knows where San Ramon is or how to do an oil change… or even worse, they do know where San Ramon is and how to change oil, but it is a different San Ramon and a different oil and we think we talk about the same thing but we don’t.

    • Hello and thank you for your comment.
      The “who is responsible” question (for me) comes down to an idea I’ve found in all cultures I’ve studied: What is a Dark Mystery to you is Perfectly Obvious to someone else (and vice versa). So when you explain something to somebody, explain the obvious. When you leave something out and they don’t get it, you’re the fool, not them.
      How I use this: If I introduce a term/concept/paradigm, it’s my responsibility to make sure all involved understand what I’m introducing.
      A have a favorite anecdote about the same terms having different meanings in different disciplines. Long ago I had lunch with a group of friends all of whom worked at a research facility on different projects. We chatted about the usual stuff, laughed, kidded around, talked about weekend plans and such. Suddenly, one of the women (wearing a lab coat) looked at her watch and exclaimed, “Oh my god! I’ve got to get back and destroy a culture!”
      The anthropologist sitting across from her fainted.
      Thanks again,