Tidbits to Ponder- COMMUNICATION

Granny Earth, N.D., 2003 (For the Latrobe Bulletin)

As I go about my daily life I’m puzzled by the inability of people to communicate clearly and effectively. Back in the old days a person was as good as his/her word and an agreement, or a deal could be consummated with a handshake. But, unfortunately, that’s not the case today. It seems like we can’t trust many folks to be honest and upfront in their conversations with us. Everyone seems to have an ulterior motive based on greed and/or insecurity.

I have this vision I’d like to share with you; it’s a place where life is less hurried,

with more simplicity and people have respect for one another and themselves. In their conversations they would say what they mean and mean what they say.

Their words would carry weight and clarity, along with moral ethics. Is this a fantasy? Maybe so, but wouldn’t it be refreshing if we could trust each other and our words had meaning?

Words are a large part of the way we communicate with our fellow human beings on this planet. Actions are the other part. When one’s words and actions match each other, then that’s good, ethical communication. But, when the words don’t match with the actions, it’s what I call crazy-making. I see a lot of this now a days and can’t help but wonder if anyone else has noticed it too. There are of course times in which one’s words cannot always match their actions, such as a change in conditions beyond our control or an emergency situation which makes our previously spoken words null and void.

But I’m not talking about those rare instances that one might have to go back on their word. I’m speaking here to the ambiguities in everyday language which tend to mislead and cause confusion and mistrust. Then when you match the person’s actions with his/her words, an even stranger stage is set: total confusion!

Weirder still- is when you attempt to clarify the contents of a conversation by asking the person such questions as: “What exactly did you mean by that?” or “Could you please explain what you said because I’m confused.” That person will nine times out of ten either give more evasive explanations (causing greater confusion) or get angry with you because you dare to question them.

What is the solution to this communication dilemma?

Clear communication requires intellectual qualities that are rare in today’s world. These qualities are an ideal toward which we could aim in our quest for understanding:

CURIOSITY: Albert Einstein, when asked, “ How did you discover the theory of relativity?” replied, “I challenged an axiom (an accepted truth).” Such curiosity is the driving-force within all science- in this case, the science of communication.

OPENNESS: A willingness to adopt a view different from the currently held one.

It would be easier to be closed-minded, defensive and unwilling to change.

Intellectual openness must be balanced by intellectual boldness.

INTELLECTUAL BOLDNESS: The willingness to take a stand on what we believe in. It is in the clash of conflicting opinions that we come to know the truth.

INTELLECTUAL HONESTY: Requires that we cease all deception and develop the habit of saying- only what we truly do understand and believe.

Whenever we enter into conversation with another, there’s an implied promise that we won’t lie. There are six ‘rules’ concerning our words and our actions that we all know by commonsense intuition:

1. Do no harm to others.

2. Make amends to those we’ve hurt.

3. Treat people as well as they deserve.

4. Help others when we can.

5. Strive to better ones self.

These six duties of right action are ‘common sense morality’ and can be tested by the following four questions:

1. Is it the truth?

2. Is it fair?

3. Will it build goodwill?

4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

So what is the solution? My experience has been that-  we cannot change how others choose to communicate. But, we can work on our own skills so as to  not be misunderstood. Then when we run up against someone who is ambiguous or manipulating in their communication with us, we can begin to ask them questions to clarify the situation. If they cannot or will not give clear, straight answers:

1. They are confused and can’t express themselves effectively (in which case we’ll never get straight answers).

2. They are attempting to manipulate us with deception.

A sure sign of someone attempting to manipulate, is when he or she constantly interrupts. This shows a total lack of respect for the other person- their thoughts and their words. We can help others learn better communication skills if we ourselves demonstrate an example of ethical speech and set clear boundaries. As with all growth-  it starts with us; it’s not easy and it takes time. Below is one of my favorite quotes:

“It is better to acknowledge your ignorance, than to live with the illusion that you know what you do not know: for in acknowledging your ignorance, you may be inspired to seek the truth. Whereas in pretending to know when you do not know, you neglect to seek the truth because you mistakenly believe that you already have it.” - Socrates

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