Communication is a two-way street
February 6, 2008
Do you remember the games we used to play as children? Chances are your kids are still playing them.Games like ring-around-the rosie, which mimicked the terrible Black Plague, or Black Death, that killed millions in Europe so long ago. There is a very interesting connection between childrens games and real life drama. My favorite game was a communication game. Playing it around the dinner table with the family was an eye-opening experience, especially for us children, because it illustrated how far apart we all are in our perceptions of things, and in the way we associate words with the ideas and images floating around in our minds and the sometimes uncontrollable emotions bouncing off the cluttered, inner walls of our skulls. The game involved whispering a phrase or simple sentence into the ear of the person next to you, who then whispered it to the next person until it was whispered all around the table. The last person would then say what they thought they heard, out loud, and it was never anywhere near the same phrase originally whispered. Most of the time the final result made absolutely no sense at all. So it often is in real life communication. The same thing happens every day in conversation, or reading books or newspapers. Some people are more skilled at playing the game than others, and, fortunately for bridge builders and railroad workers, total misunderstanding is not always the outcome.Communication is like a game. But it is clouded by the common misconception that print somehow bestows on words an aura of importance normal conversation lacks. This is an illusion. Dont be suckered in by it.Words are written by imperfect human beings freely sharing their thoughts and feelings. Reacting negatively to that is a sign of weakness. Since it is impossible for everybody in town, or the world, to sit down together each day and share ideas verbally, we have books and newspapers. A newspaper, for example, is nothing more than a collection of stories, facts and opinions that some people decided to put together in one place so they could create an ongoing public conversation and free exchange of information and ideas. Drama gives life to words. When we lived in caves we illustrated lifes drama on rock walls. Fortunately for them, cave men didnt have to make copies of the wall. What would happen today if we played the game I described above and started with the phrase, The free exchange of ideas. What would we end up with, The fee we charge for a can of peas or, The freaks of gingivitis? I wouldnt be surprised if some people heard, We are afraid of ideas. Nor would it surprise me if we started with the word, objectivity, and it turned into, Aw, bull pucky. The heck with it anyway.Communication is a two-way street. In the words of Simon andamp; Garfunkle, A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. The listener or reader bears a responsibility equal to that of the speaker or writer. Both should come to the table with an open mind and an understanding of the inherent informality and challenges of the game. I am not saying you should agree with everything you hear or read. Quite the opposite. Dont believe everything you read, but read only what is there. The free exchange of ideas is considered a sacred principle in most professional circles. Ideas are harmless unless they promote injury to others. Dont blame someone elses words or ideas for the false impressions and emotional reactions you choose to respond with. Try to enjoy the game. If it doesnt make you laugh, consult your inner child.Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, experienced ski instructor and commercial driver. He’s lived at Lake Tahoe for 25 years.