A student has posted this message:
"Yes, Suzette, but what do you _really_ mean?" (Plus an icon-face that I'm not sure about -- it's very toothy, but doesn't look menacing, so I'm guessing that it's a grin; correct me if I'm wrong.)
That question, even if posed lightly, is the crux of the matter. That's what all of us, if we are interested in two-way communication, always want to know. What does the other person _really_ mean by the words being spoken or written?
For English, the only way to know what somebody really means by their spoken words is to pay very close attention to their body language -- especially their tone of voice and the tune their words are set to. The words by themselves give you factoids, but aren't reliable as carriers of emotional messages. When somebody says, "The bus leaves at 7:20 a.m.," you can assume that that's what they really mean and that the bus leaves at 7:20 a.m. -- unless they're lying or mistaken, which you couldn't know without further investigation. When somebody says, "The BUS leaves at 7:20 A.M!," you can assume that not only do they mean that that's when the bus leaves, they also mean something else -- maybe "Of COURSE you can't sleep until 8:30 tomorrow morning! What a stupid IDEA!"; maybe "It would be riDICulous to take the train, which doesn't leave until mid-afternoon, when we need to be there in the MORNing! Why are you being so ABSURD?"; maybe something else.
However, when somebody _writes_ "The bus leaves at 7:20 a.m.," all bets about knowing what they really mean are off. You can't know, from those written words, what is really meant. You can't know, from my written words, what I really mean. That's what makes written English so ideal for business and politics; it's so opaque, and so deniable. Wiggle room galore.
I'll answer the question as best I can, under the circumstances and in the context of this thread.
When I am wearing my Verbal Self-Defense Teacher hat, as I do for this forum, I am always operating on at least two levels. One level is the level that carries what I believe to be the facts and beliefs and attitudes and other information of that kind; I word it as well as I can. The other level -- the metalevel -- is entirely devoted to the act of teaching; for that level I try very hard to make my words serve as a demonstration of what I'm trying to teach.
In seminars there's often one participant who decides to try to deliver my seminar for me from the floor, or who presents me with deliberately obnoxious or offensive questions, or who persists in dominance displays as the Alphas in the group struggle to establish their pecking order. At one level, I respond to that person just as I would to anyone else in the seminar. At the other level, I intend my response to be a _demonstration_ to the other participants, a demonstration of a lesson we could title "How To Deal With Someone Who Tries To Make A Public Nuisance of Himself/Herself In Your Seminar." As a teacher, I consider it my obligation always to present that second level of information.
I have been trying to operate on both levels in this forum, in all the threads; I have been trying to teach lessons about how to be courteous without being a wimp, how to make offers and negotiate them without groveling or threatening, how to respond to criticism constructively rather than defensively, how to pose questions clearly.....things like that. It's very difficult to do with written English -- it may be impossible.
Few things are more wicked than a teacher who can't be trusted. If I can't be trusted, then you have to _worry_ about what I "really" mean. You have to worry that I'm using my skill with the written language to mislead you, to confuse you, to give you false information, perhaps to play tricks on you. If I can be trusted, then you know that you only have to worry about the possibility that I may be mistaken at times -- something you can check by going to other sources. The fact that I was invited to moderate the forum by George Mattison, whom you've known a long time and whom you _know_ you can trust, is evidence that I _am_ trustworthy; you can safely assume that he had plenty of evidence of my competence and character before he made the invitation. But you need outside evidence of that kind whenever your teacher is available to you only in written English.
There's a review of one of my books online in which a woman writes that she "shudders to think" of what a verbal abuser could do with the book. I understand her concern. However, in the same way that you almost never read headlines about how someone with a black belt in a physical martial art has been beating people up on the street, you will rarely encounter someone highly skilled in verbal self-defense who uses those skills for perverse purposes. The more someone knows that they can easily deal with whatever comes at them, the less likely they are to be interested in throwing their weight around, and the more likely they are to feel that it's unethical to lean verbally on people who are less skilled that they are.