Intuitively you know it, but it’s rare even among writers for a human being to break language down enough to realise how ephemeral it really is. It always surprises me that it can accomplish anything at all it’s such a faulty, misunderstood communication system. Half the time it’s like broken Morse Code where 25% of the dots and dashes are missing plus both parties got different versions of the codebook from their parents and culture.
Writers and scientists and a few weird researchers like me are the ones who look at communication crazy-closely. We slow it down, watch it unfold, and in doing so we can see why people say they’ll do things they never intended to do, or why a spouse doesn’t relax when their partner curtly tells them that they’re “fine.” Yeah, their tone sounds a bit pleasant, but….
These are all communications indeed, but the words used will often combine with the tone and circumstances and history to create entirely different meanings, and often that meaning will even be intentionally imprecise. The people we know well don’t really do this any better than anyone else but over time we do get to know each other’s codebooks a little, so friends have more success than strangers, but still….
None of this should surprise us. If you listen for it today you’ll realise that often times people are speaking precisely because they don’t want to communicate accurately. “We’re looking into it,” if it’s said to a boss, can just as easily mean, “We’re trying to figure out how to tell about you this without getting fired.”
Of course parents know this process all too well. Many times the year’s backpack gets tossed out the following year because the kids actually lied about cleaning all their old lunches out of them before putting them away for the summer. Imagine that. A kid lying to their parents. It’s almost as though they’re trying to hide something…. And look at that. I’ve ended three sentences now with ellipses (…) Even I’m implying things I’m not saying.
Isn’t it weird that you roll around in these lies and misdirections every day and you don’t even really acknowledge it? There’s nothing you can do about it, so it’s not like it’s worth worrying about, but you could benefit enormously by keeping in mind that it’s always happening. It is not crazy to walk away from any exchange thinking to yourself, “Okay, I think I understand what they meant.” That way, if it turns out you didn’t–no problem. You didn’t have the expectation that you had.
We all need to believe something to function but it’s important that we not mistake our interpretations of the world for the world itself. There’s no way to talk about the world itself because no one sees the world, everyone justs sees their perspective on it. It’s like we’ve all gathered around the base of Mount Everest. Everyone has a different view; everyone can see something others cannot, and they can’t see things that some others can. In that scenario it’s just crazy to want to be the person who sees through everyone’s eyes. No one has that view unless you want to call that the God-view.
Your view of things, your view of ideas, your view of other people, and your view of yourself will not align with others views. If you look at your life you’ll see a ton of it gets wasted in your efforts to reconcile these views. You invest a lot energy trying to get people to see things from your perspective when that’s rarely necessary and it never really works anyway. You’d be far better off to just let things be, including misunderstandings, and particularly including misunderstandings about you.
This is why you trusting yourself and your naturally cooperative heart is so important. All of the other information that you have could be faulty. And everyone’s using different information anyway, so what’s the point in reconciling just this or that one? You can let all of that balancing and correcting and sorting out and fixing to other egos and you can live a spiritual life instead.
Be okay with being misunderstood. Be okay with misunderstanding. Be okay with truths. Be okay with lies. Understand that these all make sense from their individual perspectives, and that you can never hope to grasp all of the complexities. You are better to let go and flow instead.
Don’t compare events to what you thought would happen based on discussions, just accept them as they are and move on to the next moment. That is what it is to truly understand communication. That is how you use your understanding of it to free yourself to live a fulfilling life. Accept but don’t believe. Live in the mystery. It really works. I really mean it.
Have a wonderful week everyone.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.