The Other I

May 25, 2011

Telling it like it is

Filed under: Family,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 7:54 pm

I am puzzling mightily these days over the reality that saying what I think sometimes bears no relationship at all to communicating what I think.

The more I think about it, the more complex the problem becomes.  First of all, it affects almost every area of human communication.  It matters in families just as much as it matters in the international arena.  In my family, many of us – especially among the women – tend to speak softly especially when we know our thoughts and judgments will not please the person about whom we are thinking.

This has reduced the number of shouting matches and overt ruptures among us, but it has also resulted in some of us having no suspicion at all of the negative responses we are creating in our own family.   This is a life-long reality.  We may break up into small groups and say kindly “well, that’s so-and-so, you know s/he’s always like that.”  But we do not tend to confront each other.

In recent years, though, I have seen that taken to an extreme, an attitude like this is enabling.  It supports the very dysfunctions that a little self-knowledge may help to correct.

But this presents a critical difficulty.  Communication takes two people – one who says accurately what they are thinking, and one who hears accurately what is being said.  How often do I not say something critical because I know the hearer will not interpret what I am saying in the way I mean it?

And the opposite is unfortunately just as true.  There are some members of my family whom I think I would figuratively murder should they offer any kind of sensitive criticism.  Especially if it were accurate.

I’m facing a situation right now where I do not know if the better choice is to remain silent or to attempt to communicate that I’m feeling taken for granted, that part of my life that belongs to me is being hijacked for someone else to grandstand.  And this is being done under the guise of trying to support me, of sensitivity, understood in terms of our “special relationship.”

Which, with Obama visiting us over here, gets us back to the international relations.    The same difficulties are created among nations as in families by the fact that accurate human communication requires that both the speaker and the listener get it right.

Let’s not even get into the fact that sometimes we deliberately lie to deceive each other, or send coded messages that we expect the other person to be able to decode.  “Oh, I don’t mind at all,” might really mean “I’m absolutely furious.”  Or “Never mind, it’s not important” might really mean “It’s obviously not important to you or you wouldn’t have ignored it, but I am very hurt and I’m going to sulk.”

I’d like to say I have discovered the solution to this communications problem.  Unfortunately, I haven’t.  (Would you believe me if I said I did?)

The best I’ve come up with so far is to tell myself to remember there’s no right answer that fits every situation.   In real live situations, applying the principles of love and truth can be a tricky proposition.

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