The relations between people are always under hot discussions of many people, theorists, and even students. People present various approaches to the same situations and meanings, talk to each other in absolutely different ways, and influence the events considerably. There are several theories, which concentrate people’s attention to the movements in relations, which happen between people. In this paper, the social penetration theory and relational dialectics theory will be analyzed and examined from the point of how they were used in the movie by Thomas McCarthy The Station Agent.
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The idea of the valance is considered to be inherent to both of the above-mentioned theories, however, the same idea underlines the major difference of these theories – the necessity to figure out every detail about a person. In social penetration theory, this point is obligatory, and relational dialectics does not require such investigation at all. The Station Agent is a wonderful example that helps to clear up the essence of social penetration theory and relational dialectics, differentiate them in accordance with the major principles, decide which theory is more effective, and how these two theories may be helpful to those people, who are going to improve own lives.
Social Penetration Theory vs. Relational Dialectics Theory
Baxter and Montgomery (2006) define social life as a dynamic unity of numerous contradictions, which help to underline the quality of relationships, the necessity of dialogues, and the idea of disparate voices. Such an approach may be regarded as a helpful one because it also defines the essence of relational dialectics theory that is characterized by “ongoing tensions between contradictory impulses” (Pecchioni et al., 2005, p. 103). Social penetration theory is connected to the movements of superficial self-disclosure to intimate self-disclosure (Littlejohn & Foss 2009).
In other words, Altman and Taylor (2006) underline that this theory investigates how exactly various communication patterns may influence the changes in human relationships. The Station Agent is the story about three different people with different destinies and troubles, who have to meet together at one and the same station in order to solve their problems, improve their own lives and their attitudes to this world by means of communication and to work on own contradictions. These two theories are both illustrated in the relations of three different people.
From the very beginning of the story, the characters serve as good examples of the social penetration theory: they are not eager to communicate and try to solve their own problems separately. However, time is the means that unites them, and the ideas of the relational dialectics theory become closer and even more appropriate to them.
In the movie The Station Agent, relational dialectics is based on the issue that these three characters contradict to each other from the very beginning: a 4 foot 5 man, Fin, who is eager to live according to only own principles and is searching for the place to be left alone; Olivia, a woman, who is still struggling because of her divorce, and Joe, a young man, who is searching for people, who can stand his passion to conversations (The Station Agent 2003). Through the movie under consideration, the main characters try to comprehend what has happened to their lives and why these changes have not to lead to positive results. They try to figure out what they have already done in their past and what should be done more in order to improve their own future.
How Helpful the Theories Can Be for People
The book by John Steward, Bridges Not Walls, reminds each reader once again that the purpose of human communication is mutual reaching out (Arnett 2005). It turns out to be crucially important for any person to comprehend the thoughts and intentions of people around in order to get a chance to evaluate personal abilities and personal demands. Steward (2006) underlines that the quality of human life has to be connected to the same person’s quality of communication because communication is the only human activity that aims at building a person, exchanging necessary information, and improving own life. With the help of the movie The Station Agent, it becomes clearer that both the social penetration theory and relational dialectics theory can be helpful at people’s self-analysis and understanding of other people. These theories even help to predict that only communication can provide people with a chance to enlarge their levels of knowledge and pick out the best solutions.
For example, the relational dialectics theory may predict the outcomes of the chances, which happen during communication. This theory aims at explaining people the reasons why they communicate and what people can get from their communication. Fin and Olivia discover that Joe’s passion for conversations creates many challenges for this man because he becomes involved in other people’s lives and problems. Fin realizes that his aloofness to the events does not prevent him from inner conflicts, and Olivia recognizes that his divorce is not the end of the world, and there are many other things to enjoy in this life.
Social Penetration Theory and Relational Dialectics Theory: What Is the Best?
David Johnson (2006) admits that it is obligatory to be open to and with people. The movie under discussion demonstrates how one theory may predominate over another. The social penetration theory is helpful at the beginning of relation’s development: small and slightly informative talks, inability to reveal oneself because of lack of awareness, and careful attempts to communicate about some private topic. In comparison to this theory, the relational dialectics theory provides people with a chance to learn each other better, to spend more time together in order to realize why people choose this but not that style of life. In The Station Agent, the use of the latter theory turns out to be more effective and appropriate for the situations, the main characters get into.
In general, people have to spend much time on communication and thinking over the topics, which should and should not be discussed. Values and meanings have to be taken into consideration (Corey & Schneider-Corey 2006) because people are smart enough to realize what content is honest and reliable and what content is just another attempt of a person to discover something new.
The Station Agent is a wonderful source of information that describes how the social penetration theory and relational dialectics theory can be used simultaneously, and how one of them can easily substitute another within a short period of time. Communication is a powerful means to enlarge their own level of knowledge, to make the right decisions, and to help other people not make a mistake. People should care about their own quality of communication in order to create more bridges but not walls and have numerous chances to reach out to each other and live in accordance with personal desires and with the demands of people around them.
Altman, I. & Taylor, D. (2006). Social Penetration Theory. In E. Griffin A First Look at Communication Theory. New York: McGraw Hill.
Arnett, R. C. (2005). Dialogic Confession: Bonhoeffer’s Rhetoric of Responsibility. Southern Illinois: SIU Press.
Baxter, L. & Montgomery, B. (2006). Relational Dialectics. In E. Griffin A First Look at Communication Theory. New York: McGraw Hill.
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Corey, G & Schneider-Corey, M (2006). Meaning and Values. In John Steward Bridges Not Walls: A Book about Interpersonal Communication. New York: McGraw Hill.
Dinklage, P., Clarkson, P., Cannavale, B. & Williams, M. (Producers), & McCarthy, T. (Director). (2003). The Station Agent [Motion picture]. United States: Miramax Films.
Johnson, D. (2006). Being Open with and to Other People. In John Steward Bridges Not Walls: A Book about Interpersonal Communication. New York: McGraw Hill.
Littlejohn, S. W. & Foss, K. A. (2009). Encyclopedia of Communication Theory. Singapore: SAGE Publications.
Pecchioni, L. L., Wright, K. B. & Nussbaum, J. F. (2005). Life-Span Communication. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Steward, J. (2006). Bridges Not Walls: A Book about Interpersonal Communication. New York: McGraw Hill.