When I work with clients, I work from the presupposition that all behaviour has a positive intention and, particularly, that there must be some advantage to us in a behaviour we do repeatedly or we would not continue to do it. So what's up with mixed signals?
Friday night, I attended a performance of Henry V at McMaster University (check it out at www.henry-v.ca). It is billed as William Shakespeare's Henry V - a claim easier to make since Will himself is unlikely to object that the eding and performance are designed to work against his text rather than with it. When even the text's own ironies are treated ironically, what happens to the audience? The performance both does and does not take a strong anti-war stance: the text offers Harry as the only real leader and in subverting that, the performance looks ironically at all notions of both leadership and fellowship. Including the leadership of the performance and the fellowship of the audience.
One of the two things happens as a result: the audience cannot enter into the experience with the actors; they are not constituted as a group an so respond in patches, as individuals. Or given a different predisposition, they let their attention rest with what is accessible. The audience sheds tears for the princess and not for the nameless 10,000 who die. Is this the director being clever? Does he want us to notice how sucked in we are. . . how quickly we shed more universal ideals to sympathize with celebrity?
It is the easiest and most common thing in the world to send mixed signals. Even the weather does it in November. One moment promises mild, sunny calm; another brings hail or snow. In not committing, we are living the transitory nature of existence, keeping options open and paths clear. We are both connected and disconnected; not accountable for our visions or our actions because they may shift at any moment. We sample a little of everything at the table. We enjoy our own cleverness.
It is fun to be clever, even when everyone else is clever in precisely the same way.