Lost in translation

I have long held that most relational problems are rooted in poor communication. It is quite possible that this belief is wholly self-serving…because I love to communicate. I love words in any form and use them ruthlessly and nearly incessantly. If I’m quiet, I’m probably reading, writing, or talking to myself. Or maybe even doing a cross-word puzzle. Those are fun too. But if people are around…well, I’m rarely being quiet in that case. I am open to most any form of communication, especially if I am the one speaking: dialogue, monologue, diatribe, debate, discussion, lecture and most especially conversation. I don’t do little chats often or well. Small talk and I have barely a passing acquaintance. I have been told on numerous occasions by numerous people that the conversations they have with me are “strange.” It must be me, because I always think the conversations in question are perfectly normal. So we should be able to use this wonderful tool, this flexible, descriptive, evolving language, to accurately and effectively know each other. And the only thing I find more endlessly fascinating than language? People. Individually and as a whole, people are amazing. We are similar enough to seem generally familiar, but different enough to be easily distinguishable and wholly unique. The only characteristic of people that I universally have a hard time finding interesting enough to remember from one meeting to the next is…well, this is embarrassing…first names. I know…it’s horrible! People want to be known and remembered and don’t really care that I can recall our conversation because I have forgotten their NAME.

But I digress. Because I was supposed to be going on about how ineffective communication hurts relationships. Because it does! We talk and talk (or don’t) and we even listen and listen (or really don’t), but even when we do, we are often speaking different languages.  I try really hard to say exactly what I mean in the most precise detail possible…and totally lose people because of the sheer volume of words that I throw at them. I also answer questions about how I’m doing by explaining how I feel about how I’m doing. I absolutely overwhelm people. And then I wonder why they don’t understand what I meant to say…because I worked so hard to be clear. My reliance on exclamations and italics might also be mildly distracting…. But that’s not the point either. The point is: we all have to work to understand and be understood. We need to know when to talk, when to listen, when to forgive, and when to let go and even when to shut up. We can never guarantee that someone else will understand what we mean because we can’t even ensure that they understand what we say (or write, for that matter). Language is fluid and flexible and there are many ways to says things and just as many ways to interpret what has been said. We all spend time translating and we all make mistakes with our translations. So yes…problems are rooted in poor communication…and sometimes we can’t make the communication any less poor…. So then what? Do we quit trying to know each other? Or quit trying to talk to each other? I hope not. I hope we listen, talk, love and have patience. And, most importantly, forgive when we inevitably screw up. And I will try to remember your name…the first time.


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