Sunday, November 14, 2010

Crayons: Part 2 - ...the master of those not yet uttered

(Continuation from Crayons: Part 1)

Just like each person holds his crayon in his own way, each person use words differently too. Not everyone have the skill to say it ‘politically correct’. One person might use words that represent an offence to another, e.g. swearing. (I’m not talking about careless profanity, so context is relevant.) Does that mean that they should go unheard and misunderstood because they don’t know how to say it eloquently?

Words in conflict can be especially hard. I think that it is good, though, to apply the same principle: that understanding is more important than each literal word in isolation. Initially I didn’t fare to well. I’m using anger as an example: Someone expresses their emotion, including some foul language. You can either walk away understanding why the person is upset, or you can go away with “they used the ‘F’ word”. Who knows, maybe there was the occasional valid point. I wouldn’t know, I wasn’t listening... for every time I came away with the latter...

One of the “filters” that affect the words we hear/interpret is when you are personally involved in the conflict. When the anger / frustration / resentment, etc. is about you it is not always easy to listen objectively. Admittedly so there have been times when I’ve been less successful at it than other times.

However, in the greater scheme of things I still think that it is more important to continue honing the ability to use words than not communicating at all, even though it might be somewhat clumsy or messy at first. For me it is part of getting to understand each other better and the more you communicate the better you become at it. Sometimes improvement needs to happen “in transit”. Life doesn’t always stop for you to perfect something first and then move forward, so get good at communication “on the go”.

(I think it is important to add that the attitude with which you use words (communicate) needs to be kept under constant watch. Being “clumsy” or “messy” with words does not give you the right to rip others apart as you please. Attitudes of the heart is often not spoken with lips, or heard with ears, but whispered heart to heart while you’re busy saying something else.) If you really care about the other person that is part of the relationship then you make room for them to grow (and if the caring is mutual, then you don’t abuse that gesture – If you get invited to a party and it matters to you, then you show up - - and you tango!)

Learning to communicate well – especially with those that we share longer term relationships with – is a challenge that require commitment, patience and perseverance. Shutting up like a clamp, creating the illusion of peace, doesn’t really help anyone. It is a ticking time bomb that will inevitably explode somehow and someone somewhere will most certainly bear the scars.

We can so easily become caught up in what words mean to us that we forget about what they mean to the one uttering them. He who holds the crayon knows the picture he is trying to draw. Sometimes the picture is not a portrait of you, so if you really care to know, get to know the colorful vocabulary in someone else’s crayon box.

Crayons: Part 1 - Want to colour?

Words... hmmm... what do they really mean..? Let’s colour while we chat about it, shall we..?

I took a walk to the bank this morning. COD (cash on delivery) is apparently not spelled Mastercard or Visa. However, obtaining cash from your bank account whilst in a foreign country was potentially going to be a little bit trickier. When in doubt, ask, so off to the bank I went. The lady explained a few options to me, of which one was a cash advance. What is that? To my mind it sounds like a loan that I would need to repay. I didn’t want to borrow money. After a few more questions I realized that cash advance in this country means the same as cash withdrawal in my country. It is two different words that really mean the same thing.

Forget about tomatoes and potatoes; when people use different words to describe the same thing is where it becomes fun and games. More importantly than the word, is understanding, without which you have very little (if anything) more than a loud clatter in an empty tin.

I once read about a study that was done with regard to the meaning of words. A group of people were asked to draw a picture of their perception of the word tree. Not one of the pictures looked the same. Some drew tall trees with thick stems, some drew fruit trees, Christmas trees, trees with nests in the branches, trees with chairs in its shade, trees that resembled more of a shrub-like plant covered in leaves and some a mere stick picture that might be anything had you not known it was a tree. It was not complicated, yet the word tree created a different picture in each mind.

It is one thing if the words we use describe something tangible. It is something else when words become something that we use to attempt to describe something about ourselves; our intangible feelings and thoughts. Now words become one of the “crayons” for understanding. Just one colour seldom make for an interesting picture, but if we combine it with crayons of tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, hand gestures, association and comparison, etc. communication becomes either deeply meaningful or highly confusing.

I think everyone grow up in their own vocabulary in some way. Those who get to know you well learn to recognize what you mean when you use certain words, terms or phrases. It becomes like your signature and they would recognize your ‘crayons’ almost anywhere.

Sometimes it is not so much about the extent (or limitations) of your vocabulary, but also how you use words.

I once attended a seminar aimed at improving communication within a marriage. On top of words having different meanings for individuals, it also differs for male and female. In this case you want to use words to create emotional intimacy between husband and wife. One of the skills we learned about is the art of using association. The aim is to convey emotion / experience by means of associating it with something familiar in the other person’s ‘world’ (so to speak) so that they may truly understand what you mean. Mere words without understanding do not contribute meaningfully to a growing relationship, therefore the absence of understanding defeats the purpose of attaining deeper levels of intimacy. In this instance the association is what should cause the proverbial penny to drop.

*Imaginary example: We had friends over for tea one evening and I used China plates from a set that has been in my family for four generations – with great care as you can imagine. Afterwards my husband, with the best of intensions, helped me to tidy up the dishes, and in the process broke one of the plates. I was enraged but he didn’t understand and told me, “It’s just a plate; I’ll buy you a whole new set.” That didn’t solve anything; neither did the ensuing argument, because he failed to understand how I felt or why.

Eventually we get around to talking about it. I ask him, “Do you remember when we bought our new car last year and we had to clean out the garage? I accidently threw out that old, rusty dusty fishing pole I found not realizing that it was the same one you used fishing with your dad when you were a kid. We tried to save it, but the garbage truck beat us to it at the break of dawn the next morning. It was gone. I feel about the China plate like you felt about that fishing pole.*

In and of itself fine China and fishing has nothing to do with each other, but my emotion about China and his emotion about the fishing rod does. And that’s what it’s all about... (to be continued...)